Bad call makes bad day for Yanks

Thursday, October 8, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Travis Fryman is clearly inside the line before the throw hits him in the back.
(AP photo)

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NEW YORK -- Joe Torre was surprisingly civil. He lodged his protest with remarkable restraint, his voice nicely modulated, his gestures subdued, his outrage understated.

"You can't tell an umpire what he saw," the manager of the New York Yankees said Wednesday night. "But you've got to have better umpiring than that."

No baseball game is determined by a single play, but Game 2 of the American League Championship Series will be remembered mainly for one bizarre moment: a sacrifice bunt play that was botched by the Yankees and perhaps also by the arbiters.

In the top of the 12th inning, in a game as tight as your belt on Thanksgiving, the Cleveland Indians staged a decisive three-run rally built around one of the most strange and disputed postseason plays since Jeffrey Maier's outfield assist from the right-field stands.

With runs dear, and the Indians using up relief pitchers like Kleenex, Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove chose to play for one run. Jim Thome led off with a single and Enrique Wilson was immediately dispatched as a pinch runner.

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Travis Fryman, who was not credited with a single sacrifice in 608 plate appearances during the regular season, was called on to bunt. He dropped a beauty about halfway up the first-base line. It was fielded by New York first baseman Tino Martinez, whose only play was at first base, and whose line of fire was obscured by Fryman running inside the line.

Martinez' throw struck Fryman in the back just before he reached the bag, and the ball trickled toward right field while the Yankees carelessly chose to argue.

"When I passed first base, I heard (first-base umpire) John Shulock yell, "Safe,' saw the ball 30 feet away, and everybody was standing with their hands in the air." Fryman said. "That surprised me a little bit. I figured I would keep running until somebody told me to stop."

Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch stood at the base motioning at plate umpire Ted Hendry while Wilson and Fryman scooted around the bases. Wilson scored before the Yankees realized the extent of their peril, and Fryman advanced to third base.

"From my standpoint, I was expecting him to be called out," Knoblauch said. "Not hoping, expecting, because the guy was coming right at me. I had no chance to get to it."

Knoblauch was guilty of gross negligence in assuming Hendry would see the play as he did. Fryman was guilty of taking an improper route to the base. Hendry was guilty of overlooking what seemed obvious.

Replays were clear, dramatic and dumbfounding. Former umpire Steve Palermo, interviewed by NBC, said Fryman should have been called out for obstruction. But crew chief Jim Evans, who assumed responsibility for explaining Hendry's non-call, claimed the play was open to interpretation.

"You can be in fair territory," Evans said, "On your route to first base, you can go around the pitchers mound . . . The question is: Do you interfere with a throw that the defensive player can catch to retire the batter - runner?"

Here, Evans' efforts to illuminate Hendry's decision became somewhat tortured. He said the call "could have gone either way," that the runner must be in fair territory in order to touch the base, but paradoxically "if he interferes with the throw -- which this guy probably did in this situation -- where was he when he interfered with it?"

Essentially, Evans was saying that Martinez should have hit Fryman with the ball before he was so close to first base. That way, the obstruction would have been more apparent, and the issue might have been resolved differently.

Under this interpretation, Fryman presumably would have free reign to run anywhere he wanted, so long as the Yankees failed to make the appropriate throw.

"While it leaves a bad taste," Torre said, "it's bad for baseball. That play was so blatant -- I'm not sure we would have won the game -- but you don't want to lose it that way."

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