Good luck trying to “replace” Acuna

Ronald Acuna, Jr.

Three Braves trainers help Ronald Acuna, Jr. onto a medical cart, after Acuna landed awkwardly and tore his ACL trying to catch Jazz Chisholm’s high liner Saturday.

It can happen any time, any place. There’s no particular rule about when a simple running down of a drive to the back of right field will turn into a completely-torn anterior cruciate ligament that takes you out for the rest of a major league season.

It happened to Ronald Acuna, Jr. in Miami’s Ioan Depot Park Saturday. All he did in the bottom of the fifth was draw a bead on and run down Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm’s one-out, high liner toward the back of right field, take a leap trying to catch it before it hit the track near the wall, and land on his right knee hard and awkwardly enough to tear that ACL.

Acuna hit the track and the wall after the ball that eluded him by inches ricocheted back to the outfield grass as Chisholm finished running out an inside-the-park home run. Chisholm was anything but thrilled about getting it that way.

“For it to come at that expense, it kind of sucks for me and him, because the way that I got my home run is because he got hurt,” Chisholm told reporters following the 5-4 Braves win—and that was before he knew just how badly Acuna was injured on the play. “The baseball world is going to miss him if he’s out for long.”

The baseball world in general, and the Braves in particular. So sit down and shut up, you social media miscreants who think the same as one poster who said, ignorantly, “Sorry don’t feel sorry for any injury everyone gets them, next man, up.

If you think it’s that simple, let’s see you try to replace an effervescent clubhouse presence, and a guy who actually has as much fun playing the game as the Braves are going to sweat trying to replace a .900 OPS at the plate and twelve defensive runs saved above the National League average for right fielders this year so far.

Three Braves trainers tended Acuna on the track. He tried to get up and walk but could barely limp before the pain became too much. The trainers plus first base coach Eric Young, Sr. helped Acuna aboard the medical cart that drove out to him. Teammates talked to him like a fallen brother.

“It was more just trying to let him know that we love him and that we care about him, and we’re obviously with him throughout it all,” said shortstop Dansby Swanson post-game. “He didn’t really have anything else to say other than thank you for those words.”

This wasn’t a case of a player getting himself badly hurt doing what he wasn’t supposed to be doing. This wasn’t a baseball player attacking the game with a football mentality or playing the outfield as though the fences either didn’t exist or were there purely to surrender when he came barreling through.

This was a right fielder, maybe the best in the game this season, running down and leaping for a high liner he thought he had a chance to catch, landing with unexpected awkwardness followed at once by disaster.

This is also the game’s most dynamic leadoff hitter now gone for the year. Not to mention one of the classic current examples of reminding the Old Fart Contingent how foolish they look demanding players play the game like a business but remember it’s only a game when it comes down to its business.

“In his case,” writes The Athletic‘s David O’Brien, “there is even more substance than style, which is saying a lot considering he has style and swagger coming from his pores every moment he’s on the field . . . Though Freddie Freeman has been the undisputed captain of the Braves and the face of the franchise since Chipper Jones’ retirement, Acuna rivals him not just in terms of popularity among Braves fans but also in all-around performance and standing in the baseball world.”

Before Saturday night the only issue for Acuna seemed to be the Marlins having a particular penchant for hitting him with pitches. Acuna may like to take a couple of liberties with his batter’s box positioning, but the Marlins who’ve hit him with pitches twice this year and six lifetime—the most by any opponent in his career—have looked like headhunters when facing him.

It couldn’t possibly be that Acuna has more total bases against the Marlins (147) than any other team he’s played against in 50+ games, could it? It couldn’t possibly be that Acuna has a lifetime .736 real batting average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) against the Marlins versus his .617 career mark to date, could it?

“This is actually the fourth time Acuna has had to make an early exit from a game this season due to an injury,” writes MLB Trade Rumors‘s Mark Polishuk, “but while those previous instances resulted in just a couple of missed games, [Saturday’s] injury appears to be much more serious in scope.”

That was just before how much more serious in scope came to pass. With a recovery time up to ten months, the Braves may well begin the 2022 season without Acuna for a spell, too.

“The only thing I can say,” Acuna himself said on a Sunday Zoom call, “is that I’m obviously going to put maximum effort to come back stronger than ever. If was giving 500 percent before, I’m about to start giving 1,000 percent.” The spirit is certainly willing. Unfortunately, the body may have other things to say about that. May.

“Acuna will be missed throughout baseball and especially by the Braves and their fans,” O’Brien writes. “Those fans scooped up Acuna jerseys and stood in line for Acuna bobbleheads and celebrated his every home run and bat flip, every stolen base and blazing dash from first to third—or home—and every cannon-armed throw to cut down a runner trying to take an extra base.”

Good luck trying to “replace” all that.

Stickum up!

Jacob deGrom

Jacob deGrom sets an unexpected precedent: first pitcher searched under baseball’s new rulebook crackdown against that new-fashioned medicated (and otherwise) goo . . .

History won’t quite record Jacob deGrom as the first pitcher in baseball history to be patted down on or departing the mound. Rare as it’s been, it’s happened before. Still-living Hall of Famer Gaylord (K-Y) Perry, the late Hall of Famer Don (Black & Decker) Sutton, and the late Hall of Famer Whitey (The Chairman of the Board) Ford could tell you from experience.

But on Monday afternoon, deGrom was the first to be stopped, stood for inspection, and also ordered to open his belt as though he was a holding-cell suspect about to be placed on suicide watch.

The fact that he beat the Braves in game one of a doubleheader seemed incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.

Welcome to Day One of the Show’s official crackdown on that new-fashioned medicated goo. Purely by an accident of timing, deGrom’s Mets were due to host the Braves in the first of Monday’s games. Purely by the same accident, deGrom himself had the dubious honour of first come, first frisked.

It almost seemed a by-the-way kind of thing when the tall righthander spent the rest of his working hours deGromming as usual. He struck six Braves out in five innings, surrendered one two-out double in the fifth inning that was good enough to let him lure Pablo Sandoval, that early-season pinch-hitting sensation, into a pop out to third for the side.

While he was at it, deGrom speared a leadoff line drive back up the pipe in the third with a swipe of his glove that looked so effortless he might as well have been swatting a pestiferous fly.

It makes you wonder how insect repellant escaped entry on baseball’s contraband list.

“I’m only surprised the umps didn’t think about having his glove checked for Krazy Glue right then and there,” said my friend Kenny Keystone, long-retired sub-minor league infielder, who rang my cell phone right off—well, I can’t say the hook with a cell phone, can I?

Kenny blew up my phone the moment home plate umpire Ben May flagged deGrom down as he strode off the mound after punching two out of three Braves out in the first.

“You seeing this?” he hollered wildly.

“I’m seeing it, Ken,” I replied. “I’m not exactly believing it, but I’m seeing it.”

“Whaddya mean, you’re not exactly believing it?”

“Easy,” I said as the frisking began. “How many times has baseball government threatened a crackdown on this, that, or the other thing? How many times have those crackdowns amounted to, ‘If we catch you doing that again, we’re going to be . . . very, very angry at you’?”

Ken was about to answer when I cut him short. “Wait,” I said. “Here it is.”

There it was. DeGrom strode off the mound, and May flagged him down. It looked at first as though May tossed the last ball deGrom pitched in the inning to either one side or to third base umpire and crew chief Ron (Mea) Kulpa, whichever came first.

May said something illegible to lip readers watching on television. DeGrom waved his right arm away, flashing the kind of grin that in another time and another place might have been the grin of a guy whose well-timed hotfoot was about to explode right up the victim’s heel—not to mention his Achilles tendon and his calf.

Then Kulpa arrived. “Never mind the dental work, buster,” he seemed to say, “hand over the glove.”

Kulpa had his back on the camera view, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that too many indignant fans wouldn’t know the meaning of when real cheaters get caught on the spot and then cuffed and stuffed. He inspected deGrom’s glove almost as though he’d found the tape that fell off the lock at the Watergate.

The only thing missing was the Citi Field P.A. people cuing up and playing the famous theme from The Pink Panther.

“Glove, hat, and belt,” is what turned out to be the instructions to deGrom from the men in blue-black and gray. In the moment, if you weren’t in the ballpark, a half educated guess might have the exchange like this as deGrom handed his gear over:

DeGrom: Here. Nothing to see here, Ron.

Kulpa: Don’t tempt me to say you had nothing upstairs.

DeGrom: You’d have laughed your head off saying it.

Kulpa: Then you’d have been tempted to throw one at me upstairs!

DeGrom: Where it has plenty of room to bounce around?

I did say half educated. DeGrom’s not one of those guys who’s going to let a little thing like baseball’s government imposing and enforcing on-the-spot inspections and searches kill the mood.

For all anybody knows, behind that prankish looking grin of his deGrom was humming the theme to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: “Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?”

Next, Kulpa moved a little to his right. Then, deGrom moved his right hand to the front of his almost non-existent stomach. And the next thing anybody saw, deGrom loosened his belt.

“Are you seeing that?” Kenny whooped. “Why the hell don’t they just have him drop his drawers right then and there while they’re at it?”

At the same moment, May moved left and deGrom had his hat back. After re-fastening his belt and accepting his glove back, too, deGrom moved to his own left, toward the dugout, and never once stopped grinning big and wide—except when he was laughing his own not-so-fool head off.

I had to laugh, too.

“Kenny,” I said, “You know better than me that if they drop his drawers there, it’s going to be tough to decide which is worse—the umps strip-searching a player right there on the field, or that Citi Field audience going you-know-what-shit nuts. And nobody will be able to tell if they’re going you-know-what-shit nuts because of the outrage of the strip search or because the women in the park think deGrom’s got the best legs in baseball.”

“If they were gonna frisk him and search him,” Kenny replied, “why the hell didn’t they just march him into the dugout, move him up against the wall, and pat him down the old fashioned way?”

“Because they were making history, too.”

“History?”

“Purely by an accident of timing,” I said, “deGrom’s the first pitcher to get searched for syrup, stickum, SpiderTack, or other kinds of blends we don’t even know were invented yet. Even if half of baseball world thinks half or better of the pitchers out there today spend as much time in their private laboratories as watching the videos of their most recent pitching turns.”

“Yeah?”

“Well,” I said, “May and Kulpa have become the first umpires to perform searches for syrup, stickum, SpiderTack, and other kinds of blends we don’t even know were invented yet.”

“Who cares about those guys” Kenny asked indignantly.

“I’ll name you two,” I said. “I’m willing to bet half deGrom’s salary that Joe West and Angel Hernandez are steaming mad because the Elysian Fields gods couldn’t bring themselves to arrange it so that one of them would be the first to approach some pitcher with a search warrant.”

Rookie Braves pitcher Kyle Muller was stopped and frisked likewise after working the bottom of the first. Over in Texas, Rangers starter Kyle Gibson and Athletics starter Frankie Montas got stopped and frisked after working each half of the second.

By then it was about as funny as a strip search warrant for a nudist colony. And who cared about them, anyway? They didn’t get to make history. The guy with the 0.50 ERA on the season after his day’s work was done did. He passed inspection with flying colours. Who says deGrom isn’t leading a charmed life this season?

“You can’t bet half deGrom’s salary,” Kenny shot back.

“It’d be the easiest $17.75 million I ever made.”

“I’m coming to Vegas on the morning plane,” he said. “I’ve got two words for you and I’m saying them to your face.”

“And what might those two words happen to be?”

“Stickum up!”

The bench is for fannies, not fists

Huascar Ynoa

Repeat after me, young marksman: To err is human, to forgive is not bench policy when it meets a flying fist.

I don’t want to be a spoilsport or anything, but some baseball traditions manage to hang around in spite of themselves. Traditions like the guy who performs a feat of back-to-back derring-do one moment, then swings himself out of the starting rotation and into “a couple of months,” maybe the rest of the season, on the injured list the next.

Let the record show that Braves pitcher Huascar Ynoa had every right on earth to feel frustrated Sunday evening, after the Brewers slapped him and his silly for five runs on nine hits, including Avisail’s two-homer that bumped out of center fielder Endier Inciarte’s glove web over the wall, en route a tough enough 10-9 Braves loss.

Let the record show further that rightful frustration doesn’t necessarily counsel you that it’s wise beyond your years to punch the dugout bench out after you’ve been removed mercifully enough from further slappage.

“I knew he had done it and it was sore,” said Braves manager Brian Snitker, after the Braves’ team flight back to Atlanta, “but in the flight it started bothering him more. They checked [Monday] morning and it was a fracture. It’s a shame.”

Maybe hitting home runs including a grand salami during back-to-back starts gives a young man an unlikely and perhaps unreasonable sense of his own invincibility. But maybe Ynoa will learn the hard way that, frustration or no, bad outing or no, benches are for fannies, not fists.

He joins not that fraternity of ballplayers who sent themselves to the injured list in freak accidents. He joins the dubious brotherhood of boneheads who thought they could punch their way out of their bad moments by taking on inanimate objects that don’t hit back but leave mucho damage when they’re hit at all.

The core reasons are as varied as the ways you can win or lose a ball game. There’s no way to predict just what will make a player mad at himself in any inning, on any day.

When Pat Zachry established himself as a new Mets ace, after being traded there in a package sending the Reds the old (and Hall of Fame) Mets ace (Tom Seaver), he faced his old buds from Cincinnati a year later and ran right into Pete Rose’s then-36-game hitting streak.

Zachry kept Rose quiet until the seventh, when Charlie Hustler slapped a single. A couple of batters later, Zachry was lifted from the game and not a happy trooper about it. He decided to kick whatever came within reach of his hoof . . . until he saw a stray batting helmet. He reared back to deliver, then—as if the helmet was the football Lucy kept jerking away from Charlie Brown—swung his foot, missed the helmet, and nailed a concrete block.

Broken foot. Season over. Zachry was probably grateful if no teammate decided to serenade him upon his return the following spring with a chorus or three of a certain old hit by Paul Revere and the Raiders.

A.J. Burnett had a tough enough time pitching in 2010 without deciding the way to take out his frustrations after the Rays made a pinata of him one fine day was to punch out . . . the clubhouse doors. The good news was that Burnett didn’t miss serious time. (Cue up Teddy Pendergrass.) The better news: He wasn’t half as foolish as another short-term Yankee six years earlier.

Kevin Brown wasn’t having a bad 2004 despite a few little injuries in The Stripes when he ran into the Orioles in early September, came out in the sixth inning, and tried to challenge a clubhouse wall with his fist. Guess who won that debate and took Brown out of action for three weeks. We’ll have a wild guess that it was a long time before Brown could listen to a certain Pink Floyd song without cringing.

Legend has it that Elvis Presley was given to picking up a pistol and blowing out the screen whenever he saw something (or someone) he didn’t like on television. Jason Isringhausen once saw and raised Elvis, during his final season as a Cardinal: Having a bad 2008 as it was, Isringhausen decided like Popeye that was all he could stand because he couldn’t stand no more, after Jason Bay blasted a three-run homer on his dollar.

He punched a television set out—cutting his hand and ending up on the old disabled list for fifteen days. The least advisable music with which to serenade him the rest of the year was probably this Allan Sherman chestnut about a pair of early 1960s TV addicts, even if the song was funny as hell otherwise.

Boys will be boys, grown men will be boys, but when on earth will even the most severe competitors finally figure out that certain inanimate objects (in the case of Isringhausen’s would-have-been-victim, inanimate is in the eye of the beholder) live by the motto, “To err is human, to forgive is not my policy?”

Lucky for Ynoa that he doesn’t yet have even a short-term a reputation as, shall we say, a testy guy. John Tudor, ordinarily a quiet fellow who preferred to let his pitching do about 90 percent of his talking, had that reputation to some extent. It was more than a little unfair.

When he felt like using his mouth to cover the other ten percent, Tudor was actually thoughtful, articulate, sensitive, self-aware, and modest. (His least favourite subject was himself.) At least, he was with writers who treated him like a man and not a commodity. When he incurred difficult times with the press, as he did down the stretch in 1985, Tudor could and did bristle enough to challenge at least one writer to put his fists where his mouth was.

When he got knocked out of Game Seven of that World Series at the earliest time in his career that he’d ever been chased (his often-troublesome shoulder gave out), Tudor went into the clubhouse, took a swing at an electric fan with the hand by which he earned his living, and needed a hospital to stitch it up. Tudor apologised publicly one week later. (The following spring training, he admitted to Thomas Boswell the incident and bad press still bothered him: “I can’t worry about it, but that’s not saying I like it.”)

But in the immediate moment, word of Tudor’s ill-fated fan-shake reached the press box. Apparently, at least one of the occupants was one of his least favourite writers. The feeling was surely mutual enough. Said writer whose identity is lost to time and memory is said to have cracked, “Ahhhhh, the sh@t finally hit the fan!”

Yes he did pitch a no-hitter. Wanna fight?

Madison Bumgarner

Bumgarner won’t get credit for his no-hitter because . . . seven innings, in a doubleheader now mandated as two seven-inning games. But he damn well should get it.

Repeat after me: Madison Bumgarner pitched a no-hitter Sunday afternoon. Madison Bumgarner pitched a no-hitter Sunday afternoon. See? Simple, and appropriate.

The carpers carp that MadBum won’t and shouldn’t get credit for a no-hitter because of the seven-inning rule applied to doubleheader games. That’s almost as bad as saying Bumgarner himself decided to help make the rule so let it be on his head and to his discredit. They’re both false, too.

Bumgarner worked his seven innings, struck out seven, and might have had a perfect game if not for Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed’s throwing error on Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies’s grounder leading off the bottom of the second. MadBum’s mates gave him a cozy five-run lead before he even had to throw a pitch, then tacked on single runs in the third and the sixth.

The lefthander with the 747 wingspan spread as he’s about to deliver is being cheated out of his propers because of a strange contradiction. A 1991 rules change declared no-hitters to be nothing less than nine innings with the pitcher finishing on the winning side. That was prodded by Yankee pitcher Andy Hawkins’s no-hit loss to the White Sox in Chicago, where he didn’t have to pitch the ninth.

The rule changers then didn’t ponder what didn’t occur to them, the wherefores of un-hit pitchers in official games made less than nine innings by future rule changes. Such as the pan-damn-ic safety protocols prompting makeup games required for any reason being parts of doubleheaders and going only seven innings each.

That doubleheader rule was held over for this season, of course. When last I looked, those between the commissioner’s office and the Major League Baseball Players Association who agreed to keep such doubleheaders this year didn’t include Madison Bumgarner.

So playing within both the 1991 no-hitter rule adjustment and the pan-damn-ic doubleheader innings limit does him no favours. He gets credit for a complete game but not a no-hitter. Bumgarner wuz robbed.

Let me go back on record right now to say again that I approve of doubleheaders with seven-inning games—because they make just plain common sense. Old Fart Contingency members who denounce them as just more kowtowing to candy-ass contemporary players are invited hereby to stuff those denunciations, then learn or re-learn a little baseball history.

In Game of Inches, Peter Morris—a baseball historian whose specialty is the earliest baseball generations and the debunking of longtime myths about them—recorded that the doubleheader actually predated the professional game, until it died awhile because when the game went professional team ownerships felt a little (ho ho) funny about two for the price of one keeping money out of their kitties.

“When the National Association began in 1871, there were no doubleheaders. Nor were there any the next year,” noted The Hardball Times‘s Chris Jaffe in 2010. “Professional baseball had its first one in 1873, and it would prove to be the only one in the five-year history of the NA. It took place on the Fourth of July, which was fitting because this would quickly become one of the great days for doubleheaders in baseball.”

Fast forward. The ancient American Association challenged the National League as a major baseball league. By 1891, the upstarts finally so inspired the National League that, in that season, the NL played more doubleheaders than the AA.

Mostly a holiday occurrence at first (Jaffe notes Memorial Day 1883 as the first time all Show teams played doubleheaders on the same day), the full decade of the 1890s showed the National League—having it all to itself with the AA’s collapse—playing doubleheaders a quarter of the time all decade long.

Oh, yes. There was one distinctive trend within the NL’s growing doubleheader friendliness: the bottom-feeding teams played the most doubleheaders. “This was an especially important development, because it remained true for decades,” Jaffe observed.

That makes sense if you think about it. Poor teams need an added inducement to convince the fans to come out and see them. Perhaps more importantly, when they traveled on the road their opponents needed an extra bit of persuasion to convince rooters to see what promised to be some lackluster on-field performances.

After the American League formed and joined in the Show fun, times came when teams often played 25 doubleheaders a season and sometimes more. The doubleheader had far less to do with the good of the game than with making money for the owners—especially those owning the also-ran teams who needed whatever they could get to draw fans at home, and those owning the more powerful teams who needed to draw fans when the also-rans came to town.

The Great Depression really exposed that one. From 1930-34, the National League teams averaged 36 percent a year’s schedule in doubleheaders and the American League teams, 30 percent. During World War II, the NL’s teams averaged 46 percent of their schedule in doubleheaders and the American League’s teams, 45 percent—including AL teams playing practically half their schedule in doubleheaders in 1943 and the NL teams doing likewise in 1945.

If a National League team had played just one more doubleheader, it would have meant over half the league’s games being played in twin bills.

Naturally enough, nobody gave much thought to what it might take out of players to play so many doubleheaders in a season. Especially the 1943 White Sox. For whatever reasons, those White Sox alone played an unconscionable 44 doubleheaders. Those included eleven in July, eleven between September’s beginning and the 1 October regular-season finish, and 27 pairs of doubleheaders played either on back-to-back days or with an off-day between them.

Never mind Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’s fabled watchword, “It’s a beautiful day—let’s play two!” You try thinking about playing 36 innings of baseball in two or three days by design rather than by extra innings happenstance. You might be at least as exhausted thinking about it as the men who played those innings in that stretch must have been playing them.

Doubleheaders began fading away little by little by the end of the 1950s. But it’s to wonder why baseball’s overlords of the era previously discussed didn’t even think about considering seven-inning games for doubleheader days. The ’43 White Sox played 774 innings worth of doubleheaders before extra-inning games are considered (eight times a White Sox doubleheader game went to extras that year); if they’d been seven-inning games, they would have played 602 doubleheader innings.

Discussing in February the pan-damn-ically inspired rule changes that should be kept or dumped, CBS Sports writer Mike Axisa applauded keeping doubleheaders of seven-inning games:

Games are going to be postponed, potentially a lot of games, and they will have to be made up at some point later in the season. We saw teams play three doubleheaders in a single week at times last year. MLB has to assume something like that will happen again, in which case seven-inning doubleheaders are a necessity. You can’t ask players to run themselves into the ground like that.

. . . [O]f all the 2020 rule changes MLB and the MLBPA should consider for 2021, this is the one that most has to happen . . . It’s less wear and tear on the players, and less time at the park equals less exposure to the pandemic for players, coaches, stadium workers, and fans. Seven-inning doubleheaders are a must.

They should be a must even beyond the eventual end of the pan-damn-ic. Especially for the reason Axisa said primarily. Baseball players aren’t automatons who can play endlessly, no matter what the Old Fart Contingent thinks or maybe even wishes. They’re human beings, with human limitations, no matter how much baseball talent and skill they bring while it’s there for them to bring. (“By the time you finally learn how to play,” mammoth bombardier Frank Howard once said, “you can’t play anymore.”)

Forget how much money they’re earning. Forget Hall of Famer Willie Stargell’s memorable observation, during a long and arduously-traveled road trip, “The umpire doesn’t say, ‘Work ball’.” Professional baseball requires hard work to play. It’s not a question of just suiting up, going out to play seven or nine innings, then changing clothes with a shower and heading home.

Madison Bumgarner went to the mound Sunday in a lawfully-scheduled seven-inning game under rules he didn’t make . . . and didn’t surrender a single hit. He earned credit for the win. The 1991 no-hitter rule change didn’t account for arbitrarily but necessarily changed structures of doubleheaders, and Bumgarner didn’t ask for a seven-inning game to start half a twin bill.

Officially, MadBum gets credited with a complete game. Also officially, he gets no credit for a no-hitter. If you can tell me how much sense that makes without tripping over both of us, you’re a better manperson than I. Far as I’m concerned, the seven-inning doubleheader needs to stay beyond the pan-damn-ic . . . and Madison Bumgarner damn well did pitch a no-hitter.

Don’t blame replay for Bohm staying safe

Travis d'Arnaud, Alec Bohm

Repeat after me: Alec Bohm was out at the plate . . . Alec Bohm was out at the plate . . . (Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo.)

The arguments against using replay to determine close plays included that it would take a big, big, big piece of the human factor out of a game. Well, what the hell was that we saw in Atlanta Sunday night?

It was the human factor getting it wrong despite having what Braves pitcher Drew Smyly called five different angles on a nationally televised game.

It was home plate umpire Lance Barrett missing a call on a bang-bang play at the plate in the top of the ninth but the replay review crew out of New York essentially doubling down on the wrong call, despite how right Smyly was and having five or even more angles to review.

It was Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm colliding with Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud as he arrived sliding as d’Arnaud with the ball lunged to block the plate, forcing Bohm to slide just offline enough to miss touching the plate even with his lead foot.

It was the Phillies winning 7-6 when the Braves went three-and-three in the bottom of the ninth and Bohm saying almost nothing but, “I was called safe. That’s all that matters.” Note that “I was called safe” isn’t exactly the same thing as saying, “I was safe.”

Even the Mets weren’t that coyly disingenuous about Michael Conforto elbowing his way to a blown call in his favour and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch walkoff against the Marlins last Thursday.

With one out in the top of the ninth Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius lofted a fly the other way to left. Marcell Ozuna strode in toward the line to catch it. As Bohm tagged at third, Ozuna fired a two-hop strike down the line that hopped into the crouching d’Arnaud’s mitt. In the same split second d’Arnaud turned right, his folded leg across the plate with the tag on the sliding Bohm’s back leg.

D’Arnaud did bump Bohm in front of the plate for a moment. Bohm’s left foot, his lead foot, never touched the plate, flying just over it, and neither did the rest of his body parts, before he sprang up in a bent-knee pirouette and turned another one upright, waving his arms, including one wave that looked as though he were making a safe call.

If you want to give Barrett a benefit of the doubt you could say plausibly that d’Arnaud sprawling across the plate after the bumping tag on Bohm might (underline that) have obstructed his full view of Bohm’s slide.

“We saw it,” insisted Phillies manager Joe Girardi standing by his man and the review crew at once. “It looked like his big toe kind of hit the corner of the plate is what we saw when we saw a lot of the angles.”

I saw it, too, from a lot of the angles. For Girardi to say that, Bohm’s big toe must have been on his heel. On the angle his foot flew over the plate, his heel was actually a hair or two closer to hitting the plate than his big toe was.

Smyly didn’t pitch all that well Sunday night—he surrendered five runs on five hits in five innings’ work, including a two-run homer to Ozzie Albies in a three-run first and a leadoff solo to Freddie Freeman in the bottom of the fifth. But his perspective on that play at the plate was anything but impaired.

“[I]t’s clear that his foot didn’t touch the plate, that it was on the chalk,” Smyly told reporters post-game. “Everyone saw it and sees it, everyone knows it. And for MLB not to overturn that, it’s embarrassing. Why even have replay if you won’t overturn that? That’s the way I feel about it. I think everybody feels that way. There’s five different angles. It’s clear, he didn’t touch the plate.”

#HeDidntTouchThePlate became a Twitter hashtag almost as fast as the original play went down in the first place. Better that than the Truist Park audience throwing debris down onto the field. They had every right to be outraged, but better chanting (as they did) Bull-[sh@t]! Bull-[sh@t!] than throwing junk and at least one bottle kept from doing damage by, ironically, the netting hoisted to protect fans from bullet-fast foul balls.

Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, himself native to Atlanta, may have felt his team got jobbed, but he wasn’t too thrilled about the fans’ display, either. “It’s an embarrassing representation of our city because I know from being from here, that’s not how we act,” he said after the game.

And then probably the worst part of it all, I don’t think people realize we have families here. There are kids that are here, kids that are sitting in the front row, and you’ve got bottles whizzing by their heads. Just endangering kids that may not be able to protect themselves is downright embarrassing, and it should never happen again. It just can’t happen, and it never needs to happen again.

It spoiled a night on which both teams brought their bats to town and swung them with authority. From Albies in the first and Freeman in the fifth to Ronald Acuna, Jr.’s fourth-inning sacrifice fly and mammoth seventh-inning home run. From Rhys Hoskins’s leadoff bomb in the fourth and Gregorius’s three-run homer two outs and back-to-back singles later, to Bryce Harper’s opposite-field leadoff launch seven or eight rows into the left field seats in the sixth.

When The Athletic queried the New York replay crew about the Bohm safe call, the journal received an e-mail reply: “After viewing all relevant angles, the Replay Official could not definitively determine that the runner failed to touch home plate prior to the fielder applying the tag. The call STANDS, the runner is safe.” How many angles was “all relevant angles?”

“It makes me not even want [replay review] anymore,” d’Arnaud said. “Honestly, it just slows the game down. It took like five minutes for them to decide that and, to me, they got it wrong. So I’d rather just not have it and get the game going.”

Some plays take a little longer than five minutes to decide, some take a little less. D’Arnaud’s frustration is the most understandable among any Brave. When Conforto was ruled a hit batsman as plate ump Ron Kulpa changed his strike call in the bottom of the ninth last Thursday, Mets broadcaster Ron Darling asked why have replay if the review umpires can’t get it right.

Kulpa admitted his mistake the following day. (He got a lovely ovation from the Citi Field audience Saturday for his admission.) Barrett hasn’t weighed back in at this writing. But the issue isn’t replay itself. The issue is that there’s still a human factor in baseball games, major league or otherwise, and that factor can still get it wrong even with every potential angle showing otherwise.

Even a major league player or two ripped the call. Padres third baseman Will Middlebrooks tweeted, “How do you watch that replay and say he’s safe. Hahaha this is a joke.” Of all people, Angels all-everything center fielder Mike Trout tweeted, “So bad…” followed by an emoji showing a smiley face in tears laughing. D’Arnaud’s brother Chase, himself a former major league utility infielder, tweeted back to Middlebrooks and Trout, “the guy makes that call in New York should be interviewed just like players who get interviewed after games.”

Not just by reporters but by baseball’s government, too.

It’s far too early in the major league season for a game and a call like that to wreak real havoc on a pennant race, of course. If the safe call was overturned as it should have been, it would have meant the Braves and the Phillies each at 5-4 and tied for first in the National League East this morning.

But if a replay review crew can still blow what angle after angle showed them wasn’t a runner safe across the plate in mid-April, how egregiously will they blow a similar call down the stretch in a game that weighs like a bank vault on the races?