One of the core beliefs of my entire life to date, completely unshakable, has been that if Major League Baseball had video replay in the 1996 ALCS that the Orioles would have won the World Series that year. After tonight's contest between the Yankees and the O's, my entire belief system has been called into question. A Yankee fan blatantly interfered with a ball that was ruled a home run on the field, and the umpires went in to video replay, where despite the incontrovertible video evidence presented that the grown-up version of Jeffrey Maier had taken the ball out of play, they still ruled the pitch a home run.
This was the capstone failure on a night full of ridiculousness from the umpiring crew. For starters, the game was delayed by four hours and three minutes before it even began. Play continued through a heavy rain that would typically have resulted in a postponement. In a ridiculous sequence around the 4th inning or something, there was a 15-20 minute delay where the Yankees ground crew had to pour turface drying agent onto the entire infield. The rain was coming down so hard that by the time they had done this, the infield was full of puddles again, necessitating a second pass with the turface.
The blown home run call was the second run that the umpires handed to the Yanks on a silver platter. In the bottom of the 6th inning, Derek Jeter led off with (what else?) a cheap single. Curtis Granderson had a battle of a plate appearance with O's starter Tommy Hunter, that ended with a beautiful 3-2 pitch from Hunter which crossed the corner of home plate about belt high. Matt Wieters then threw out Jeter, who was trying to steal on the pitch. Only, home plate umpire Rob Drake called ball four. Mark Teixeira singled in Jeter in the next at-bat.
Unfortunately for Hunter, after the home run to Francisco Cervelli that shouldn't have been, he promptly gave up another home run to Brett Gardner, accounting for the 5-3 final margin. It was a night of giving up home runs to players no respectable pitcher should be allowing homers against for Hunter. The first Yankee run of the game came from Jorge Posada homering. Posada's staved off the end of his career pretty much entirely with numbers notched against the Orioles pitching staff.
The Orioles' 3 runs came in spite of Drake's strike zone, with a Matt Wieters home run (his 17th) plating Vladimir Guerrero, who took advantage of the heavy field to poke a cheap double out to right. In the 7th, Robert Andino led off with a single, was sacrificed to second by Matt Angle, then scored on a Nick Markakis double. Were it not for the extraordinary effort by the umpiring crew, this game could still be going on right now at that 3-3 score.
Some quick hits: Angle did his best Felix Pie impersonation in left field tonight. You can forgive him due to the weather conditions and the lakes on the warning track if you want. Or not, it doesn't really matter. Hunter should probably never pitch more than six innings.
One positive little thing from later in the game was the inning thrown by Pedro Strop. It was after 2am when he took the mound. He was like the honey badger out there. He didn't give a sh**. Closing time for most bars? Whatever. Yankee Stadium? No big deal. Facing a Yankees lineup that the umpires were going out of their way to favor the whole game? Who cares? Strop's just gonna go ahead and blow away these guys with nasty heaters. If he keeps on not walking dudes, I'm going to like Strop.
The umpiring errors in this game will probably go down the memory hole quickly, since it's a meaningless game for the Orioles, and the Yankees are the darlings of any umpiring crew as well as the national media, not to mention there will be another baseball game played less than eleven hours after when the final out was recorded. Orioles fans should not forget a screw-job on the level of the Jeffrey Maier game, however. If only the team didn't suck this year it might even be worth getting mad about.
Zach Britton and A.J. Burnett face off in the finale of the series. As it will be a new game, the umpires will be at different bases, so they can all invent new and exciting ways to hand the Yankees runs they did not earn, and in fact the Orioles have prevented them from earning.