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Umpire Calls Are A Problem In Baseball's Post Play


In the baseball playoffs tonight, the Detroit Tigers have a chance to put the reeling New York Yankees on the brink of elimination. Meanwhile, the San Francisco Giants have slowed the St. Louis Cardinals who'd been playing with the kind of magic touch that carried them to last year's World Series title. Last night in San Francisco, the Giants beat St. Louis 7-1 to even their National League Championship Series at one game each. NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us to talk more baseball.

Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Why don't we start with last night's game? Two teams with a little bit of history of testiness toward each other. They were at it again? What happened?

GOLDMAN: Early in the game, the Cardinals Matt Holliday, who happened to be a high school football star in Oklahoma, he channeled a little of that past on a slide into second base. Looked more like a football tackle. He took out San Francisco's Marco Scutaro.

It was definitely more than your usual guy sliding into second trying to break up the double play. Looked like he slid after the base. Scutaro crumpled under Holliday. The Giants manager, Bruce Bochy certainly didn't like it. He called it an illegal slide that, in his words, smoked Scutaro.

Scutaro stayed in the game even though his hip was hurting. He stayed around until the fifth inning, enough to do some damage from the plate. He got two hits, one of them a key single in a four-run fourth inning for the Giants, helping them on their way to victory.

MONTAGNE: And what about umpire calls? More issues there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Last night, you had another blown call. Sunday, you had a blown call in the Yankees-Detroit series. And people have been talking about instant replay. The St. Louis manager talked about it last night. He wasn't saying that it decided the game - this one call in the eighth inning. But he said, you know, every once in a while there's a big play that does change the course of the game. And he said, I'm not against having something else to help get it right.

Now, of course, Joe Girardi, the New York Yankees manager, he got thrown out of Sunday night's game disputing a call that the umpire later acknowledged was a missed call. Girardi said afterwards: We need more instant replay in baseball. The technology's there.

And baseball fans chuckled about that since three years earlier when a controversial play went in the Yankees favor during a playoff game and there was a talk about increased instant replay, Girardi said: No. We don't need it. It would interrupt the rhythm of a baseball game.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, Tom, this whole question of instant replay in baseball seems to come up pretty regularly. I mean, certainly understandable with the blown calls in the postseason. What at this moment in time is the status of the instant replay?

GOLDMAN: Well, it's been used on a limited basis since 2008, only on disputed homerun calls. It may be expanded next year. Commissioner Bud Selig says it could be expanded to judge balls that might be trapped by outfielders as they try to make a catch and, as he calls them, bullets down the right and left field lines. But baseball traditionally has been resistant to using instant replay freely. Part of the tradition of the game is to rely on the human factor of umpires making calls, for better or for worse.

MONTAGNE: And all of that seems to be the least of the Yankees troubles. What ails this team that is the richest and the most famous in baseball? What's going on there?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, well a horrible hitting slump. The murderer's row lineup is getting murdered at the plate. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are a combined 12 for 107 at-bats. That's a pretty bad batting average in the playoffs.

It's not getting any easier tonight when the face the best pitcher in the American League, Justin Verlander, who was dominant in the first round against Oakland and is raring to go at home in an effort to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead in the series.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.