Plate discipline: MLB umps crack down on blocking home

Sports

PHOENIX (AP) — The rough-and-tumble days of Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse at home plate of the 1970 All-Star Game are long gone.

Most believe that’s a change for the better.

“It’s not a football game,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “We’ve got to make sure guys stay safe.”

But the drama — and sometimes controversy — surrounding plays at the plate are still around more than 50 years later.

Two MLB games over the past 10 days were partially decided after video replay overturned plays at the plate, favoring baserunners over the catcher. The first was in Washington’s 4-3 win over the San Diego Padres and the other was in Detroit’s 4-3 victory over the Cleveland Guardians.

The plays were strikingly similar: Cleveland’s Austin Hedges and San Diego’s Austin Nola each tagged out a runner at the plate, but on review, it was ruled that the catchers failed to give a clear lane for the runner to score and the call was overturned.

Hedges and Nola were both stunned. Hedges was particularly angry, calling the reversal “embarrassing.” The Padres and Guardians are both fighting for playoff spots.

“I thought I did everything the way we practice: Step back, give him a lane, not throw the knee in front,” Nola said.

So are the catchers right? As with many things, it’s complicated.

MLB rules state that “unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score.”

Sounds simple enough. The problem is the catcher is trying to get in good position to field the ball, adjusting to the trajectory of the throw. Many times, that means the catcher moves a foot in front or on top of the plate. Even if the plate isn’t completely blocked, it makes for a more difficult sliding target for the baserunner.

At that point, it becomes a judgment call.

The rule has been around for several years: It was changed in 2014 and is colloquially called the “Buster Posey rule” after the All-Star catcher suffered a broken ankle on a play at the plate. But umpires’ willingness to rule in favor of baserunners is arguably a new development.

Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly said he understands both sides of the debate.

“You’ve got to be conscious of what you’re doing, where you’re positioned,” Kelly said. “But ultimately, we’ve got to be able to go get the ball.”

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo agreed that the rule is simple, even if the interpretation is not. He added that plays at the plate happen in a hurry and there’s a lot of moving parts in a couple seconds.

“The timing of sports in slow motion sometimes looks so different than what actually happens in front of you when you’re doing it,” Lovullo said. “I don’t think anyone is maliciously acting out to break the rules.”

700 CLUB?

If this is it for Albert Pujols, the 11-time All-Star is closing his career with quite a flourish.

The 42-year-old Pujols blasted two more homers on Saturday, pushing his career total to 692. He’s now just four homers shy of Alex Rodriguez for the No. 4 spot in MLB history.

Now the question is this: Can the three-time MVP get to 700?

That seemed like a extreme longshot just a few weeks ago, but the way he’s hitting these days, nothing seems impossible. About 40 games are left in the regular season, which Pujols says will be his last.

“That’s the hard work I put in day in and day out,” Pujols said. “Nothing surprises me.”

TRIVIA QUESTION

St. Louis’ Yadier Molina has played 2,159 career games at catcher, which ranks fourth in MLB history. Who are the top three?

DODGER DOMINATION

The Los Angeles Dodgers have played so well over the past couple months that the record for wins in a regular season is in play.

The Dodgers are 39-8 since June 29, improving their mark to 84-36 for the season. To match the record of 116 wins, last reached by the Seattle Mariners in 2001, the Dodgers need to go 32-10.

Will that be hard? Absolutely.

Impossible? Not the way L.A. is playing.

What’s even more remarkable is that mathematically the Dodgers could have an even better record.

Their pythagorean win-loss record, which takes into account runs scored versus runs allowed and comes up with the record a team “should” have, is 87-33. The Dodgers have scored 264 more runs then they’ve allowed.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Ivan Rodriguez (2,427), Carlton Fisk (2,226) and Bob Boone (2,225).

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AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed to this report.

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