Monday, September 6, 2010

Forbidden touch

“I think Michael and I would have felt something if we touched.”

So many immature college students could run that comment down multiple inappropriate paths, but in a completely different sense, the touch that Michael Young and Texas Rangers third base coach Dave Anderson did not feel was the clasping of hands to celebrate what could have been an amazing come-from-behind victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday.

Instead, third base umpire Alfonso Marquez penalized Anderson and Young for making contact with one another too early, resulting in the final out of a 6-5 loss that swept the Rangers out of Target Field.

On the play in question, Vladimir Guerrero hit a sharp grounder back up the middle with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning. Orlando Hudson managed to snag the ball with a back-handed lunge behind second base to keep it in the infield, and fired to third to try and nail Young. Christian Guzman scored the fifth Texas run, while Young barely made it back to third ahead of Matt Tolbert’s tag. However, Marquez determined that Anderson touched Young before he retreated back to the bag – an illegal assistance according to the Official Rules of MLB – and Young was called out to end the rally. He would’ve been the potential tying run, but instead, would-be hero Nelson Cruz was reduced to the role of dumbfounded spectator in the on-deck circle.

Upon closer inspection of the somewhat blurred video of the play in question, Young makes his turn around third and slows up as he approaches Anderson. Both of their right hands overlap one another in the shot, but whether or not they actually touched each other is inconclusive. What plunges this decision into even more doubt is that at the point of “contact” Marquez’s head isn’t even facing the two of them. At best, he had a peripheral view, while his main focus was on Hudson’s throw. This makes the call more of a guess than anything, which drives the human error factor past an acceptable limit. Umpire crew chief Tim Tschida said this was only the second instance of coach’s interference he’d seen in 30 years. The other one he saw should have remained the only one.

Considering the contact was two bare hands, Anderson and Young would’ve felt that immediately. We have to believe them when they say they didn’t feel anything. On the other hand, it was dangerous for them to be that close to each other in the first place. The close proximity of a player and coach during that particular situation is such a rarity to see for an umpire, he might just assume contact.

But this is just the way September is starting out for Texas. Before Sunday’s game, the Rangers lost Josh Hamilton for an unspecified amount of time due to the bruised ribs he suffered crashing into the center field fence after making a leaping catch the day before. Cliff Lee was also scratched from his Tuesday start. His back is reportedly feeling better, but Texas doesn’t want to take any chances.

With these issues weighing heavily on the team, C.J. Wilson picked a bad day to end his personal seven-game winning streak on the mound. He allowed six earned runs for only the second time this season and first since he allowed seven on May 18 against the Angels. The Rangers actually won that game 8-7, but winning has not been so easy in the past week.

There’s no way to know if the Rangers would have completed the comeback even without the interference call, as Cruz had just four hits in his previous 21 at-bats (.190). The team would love to see production earlier in the game so it’s not trying to dig its way out of a four-run hole in the ninth inning.

Anderson and Young would especially like to see that because now they know to wait until after a win is in the books before slapping hands.

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