Twins manager Rocco Baldelli on shift that helped Blue Jays win: ‘I think it was pathetic’

The Blue Jays beat the Twins, 3-2, in 10 innings on Sunday. The play that ended up being a game-winning RBI for Cavan Biggio — which scored newly acquired Blue Jay Whit Merrifield — was the source of major controversy, and led to many choice words from the Twins’ dugout, specifically manager Rocco Baldelli.

First, the play-by-play doesn’t do the play justice. It now reads simply: “Biggio hits sacrifice fly to left, Merrifield scores.” It was much more than that.

In fact, the ruling on the field was basically a one-inning double play. It was one out with Merrifield on third. Biggio flied out and Merrifield, after tagging, was ruled out at home plate on a near miss. It was close enough to get a review, and the league overturned the call, ruling that Twins catcher Gary Sanchez illegally interfered with Merrifield’s chances to score.

Here’s the best view:

The chart shows very clearly that Sanchez uses the tag on Merrifield before home plate is touched. We should all agree on that.

However, the call was overturned on the basis of the plate blocking rule. Remember, the umpires at Target Field here were only following the ruling given by the league office’s replay center in New York. That’s how it works.

Here is the relevant part of the rule:

The catcher is not allowed to block the runner’s path to the plate unless in possession of the ball, although blocking the path of the runner in a legitimate attempt to receive a throw is not considered an infraction. The runner may be ruled safe if the umpire determines that the catcher has violated this rule. But according to a September 2014 memo to the rule, the runner could still be called out if he was clearly beaten by the throw. Backstops are not subject to this rule for forced plays.

When receiving a throw, catchers will often provide a sliding pitch into home plate for the runner to reduce the possibility of being called for a rule violation.

Major League Baseball provided an explanation for this specific conversation Sunday after the game:

The catcher’s movement into foul territory was not a reaction to the pitch of the throw, and he did not need to be in that position to receive the ball.

The catcher’s actions while not in possession of the ball impeded and hindered the runner.

Baldelli immediately challenged the referees on the pitch and, frankly, got his money’s worth on the sending off. He wasn’t done. After the match, he had some sharp words about the conversation (via Bally Sports North).

“That play hasn’t been called since the beginning of replay more than a couple of times. In all of baseball, the thousands and thousands of plays and plays at home where the catcher actually blocks the plate — over and over and over — that play has almost never been called called, Baldelli said. “For somebody to step into that situation, and ultimately make a decision that it blocked the plate, it’s beyond embarrassing for our game, for all the players out there on both sides of the field working their ass , for the entire game, it is completely unacceptable.

“I can’t even believe I’m sitting here talking to you guys about this right now. It’s one of the worst moments I think we’ve seen by an umpire in any game I’ve ever been a part of in baseball. I think was pathetic, what just played out. I could go on and on and on about this. The umpires on the field have nothing to do with it. They made a play on the field, which was the right call, as every person in all of baseball, including the refs, know it’s the right call, and somebody in New York decided it was worthy of being knocked over on the field.”

The loss moves the Twins to 57-51 on the season, which is still good enough for first place in the AL Central. However, both the Guardians and White Sox won on Sunday, meaning the Twins’ lead is down to one game over the Guardians with the White Sox just two games back.

The Blue Jays’ win moves them to 60-48, giving them the top AL wild card spot. They’ve also moved into single digits behind the Yankees in the AL East, now trailing by 9 1/2 games.

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