The Tampa Bay Rays lost again, this time in a fashion not seen in baseball in quite a while. Obviously the entire game did not stem on that play. The Rays had difficulty with Wei-Yin Chen and failed to seize their few opportunities. Even so, it is always frustrating when it is an umpire and not a player who sticks the last nail in the coffin.
It was the eighth inning with Evan Longoria at the plate and Mikie Mahtook on first after pinch-running for Grady Sizemore. Mahtook went on the pitch, on which Longoria swung and missed, and managed to sneak his hand into second base before a tag could be applied. However, Longoria hit Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters with his backswing and then leaned a little bit over the plate before ducking down to avoid the throw. Umpire Dale Scott called out Longoria for batter’s interference, ordering Mahtook back to first while Longoria went to the dugout as the second out.
If you want to be as much of conspiracy theorist as possible, maybe Longoria was a little bit lackadaisical avoiding the throw and leaned a little bit more over the plate than he had to, causing him to make contact with Wieters. In all likelihood, though, he intended to do nothing at all. It was his usual after-swing, with maybe a touch of disappointment in his whiff mixed in. There was no malicious intent–he just happened to move one second late and Scott decided that was enough to call interference.
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Beyond that, the punishment was far more severe than the crime. Going along with something Longoria said after the game, it makes no sense that he needed to be called out on the play–wasn’t Mahtook getting sent back to first bad enough? How does some slight contact warrant calling the hitter out, and especially if the hitter is called out, why doesn’t Mahtook at least get to go to second base? Batter’s interference is such a rare call, but if it is ever going to be called, it can’t be a one-size-fits-all rule. If it is a judgment call whether to call interference or not, why shouldn’t the penalty be up to the judgment of the umpire as well, with the maximum penalty being what we saw in this game?
If a batter egregiously interferes with a stolen base attempt–say he actually pushes the catcher–then absolutely the runner should go back to his previous base while the batter is called out. In this case, though, even Mahtook going back to first and nothing else was a questionable call and should have represented the worst that could have happened to the Rays in the eighth inning. It will be annoying for the baseball rulebook to have to make that edit for such a rare call to begin with, but the next team in the Rays’ situation deserves to be protected.
In other news, Erasmo Ramirez went deep for a second straight outing, and while he wasn’t flirting with a no-hitter, he looked very good again. He tossed 7 innings giving up 2 runs on 9 hits, striking out 4 while walking none. He also forced a 9-3 groundout to flyout ratio. He made a few mistakes, especially with his fastball, but both his changeup and his slider looked good and he was able to work out of some jams to give the Rays’ another nice outing. Andrew Bellatti and Matt Andriese both worked shutout innings behind Ramirez, giving up just 1 hit combined.
There wasn’t much offense for the Rays–which, at the end of the day, was the real reason that they lost this game–but Richie Shaffer did immediately make Kevin Cash look smart for putting him in the lineup over Mahtook as he delivered an RBI double to tie the game at 1 in the first inning. Big league pitchers have been able to expose the length of his swing too much on the whole, but that hit was a good sign. Longoria also doubled to (hopefully) break his recent slump before the heartbreak in his last at-bat.