MIAMI — Months ago, Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond attended winter meetings and hoped what he heard then wouldn’t happen.
When Redmond, a 13-year big-league catcher, first caught wind of Rule 7.13, he had a horrible feeling it would cost his ballclub in 2014.
In the thick of the postseason race, the new home-plate collision rule played a pivotal role in the decisive three-run eighth inning of Miami’s 3-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park.
With the bases loaded and one out, Todd Frazier sent Bryan Morris’ pitch to right field. Giancarlo Stanton made the catch and threw home, where the ball beat Zack Cozart. Catcher Jeff Mathis tagged him out for the inning-ending double play.
Reds manager Bryan Price asked for a review claiming the runner didn’t have a path to score. For six minutes and 10 seconds, Morris and his teammates waited on the field or near the dugout.
The call was finally overturned — the runner ruled safe by the committee viewing film in New York. According to Rule 7.13, which was implemented this spring, unless the catcher has possession of the ball, he cannot block the plate without giving a baserunner a path. It is not considered a violation if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw.
"I’ll tell you as a former catcher in this league for 13 seasons, as a grinder who loved this game and respects this game so much, this game has been a part of my life forever," Redmond said. "To lose a ballgame tonight on that play is a joke. It’s an absolute joke. I don’t think anybody who plays this game should feel good about winning that game. And I would say that if had been reversed. That guy was out by 15 feet. It was a great baseball play. G threw a strike to Matty. He was out by 15 feet. He didn’t slide because he couldn’t slide because he was out by so far.
"And yet those guys in New York decided the outcome of that game. I don’t blame Mike Winters. He was on it. He knew the call on the field was right and he told me that when I was out there. So as a manager you sit there and look your players in the face and my job is to pump these guys up and keep those guys going every single day. No doubt we have some grinders out there in this clubhouse. To look at them in the face and say we lost the game on a technicality is b——-. Absolutely b——-. I’m so pissed. Like I said I played this game for so long. I’ve given this game everything I’ve had as a player and a manager. What a joke. What a f—— joke. That’s ridiculous.
"Like I said, I don’t blame the umpires here. (Home-plate umpire) Mike Winters — lot of respect for these guys. We made a mistake today. Not just in this game, but for the game of baseball. You can look back on this game, whatever man. A couple guys get run over at the plate, get hurt. I caught a long time. I never got hurt back there getting run over. For this rule to evolve into this. I mean what is it going to become a force play at home? Jeff Mathis, this guy grinds it out every single day. He’s going to go home tonight devastated. Thinking he cost our ballclub the game because he did his job. Because he caught a ball and tagged a guy on the hip. Really? Really? We’re going to go home tonight and he’s going to grind it out saying I cost our ballclub the game because G threw a perfect strike at home. That wasn’t good enough? I lost the game. Did my job. What a joke. "
Leading the charge for the rule’s implementation were St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy. The former had his career cut short due to concussions. The latter had his All-Star catcher, Buster Posey, suffer a season-ending knee injury in 2011 when Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins barreled into him for the go-ahead run.
Much confusion remained throughout spring training and into the season on the rule’s interpretation. Catchers were being taught how to go about the play after years growing up learning it another way.
Asked whether he would’ve done anything different, Mathis didn’t know. A 10-year veteran, Mathis has never played in a game where a player was seriously injured by a home-plate collision. He said the new rule made the game "softer."
"You sit here and you think about it and you wonder what you could’ve done and the route you could’ve taken to catch the baseball," Mathis said. "Could’ve made the play short-hop myself by getting out of the way and coming back to tag him. But I’m not going to do that. You get him a lane as the play develops and then you see where the ball goes and you catch it and make a tag. That’s what I did. It’s disgusting to think that a game could end — not end — but a play to be decided like that.
"It was brought up in spring training where we have to give them the plate now. Not get out of the way but just — it’s different play now. You see it tonight. It goes back to the Coco Crisp play earlier in the year (against the Oakland Athletics) and we talked about it. I was embarrassed that I didn’t put a tag down because I was worried about giving him a lane to slide and that wasn’t going to happen again. Mikey made a great throw, I felt like it took me on up into the line and we got the guy out. It’s tough to swallow."
Redmond came out of the dugout irate, pulling out his jersey, throwing off his hat — then kicking it — and yelling at Winters. It was his fourth ejection of the season.
Following the delay, Cincinnati went on to score another two runs on Ryan Ludwick’s bloop single to center, giving the Reds a 3-1 lead over the Marlins it would hold onto.
"I was chit-chatting with the third-base umpire about what was going on and we agreed that they were looking at whether or not Matty was blocking the plate," Morris said. "The longer it took the more I realized it wasn’t going to be good for us. It’s one of those situations when you’re trying to stay calm no matter what happens. They got that hit next batter. We’re biting the bullet on this one.
"Obviously I was overexcited when Matty caught that ball. He’s out by 12 feet. Mikey made a great throw and it was one of those situations where a guy doesn’t get rewarded for making a great play. Everybody except the guys in New York probably disagree with the call and that’s just part of the new replay system, the new rule with the catcher blocking the plate. I think Matty did everything right — he started in front of the plate and the ball went up the line and he went with it. He caught the ball and he’s on his butt when the runner went by. It’s one of those calls where we got the short end of the stick."
Cameras caught Winters, who handed Morris a ball to warm up again, saying, "I agree with you" when the righty said "That’s bull."
In the first inning of Thursday’s game with Miami already up 1-0, third baseman Casey McGehee doubled to right field with two outs. First baseman Garrett Jones followed with a blooper to center. Billy Hamilton’s throw beat McGehee, who slid to try and avoid catcher Brayan Pena’s tag but couldn’t do so.
"I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. We have Morris come in. Pitches his (butt) off," McGehee said. "We have (starter Tom) Koehler, who throws a great game. Stanton makes a helluva play in right field. All of a sudden, we’ve got a technicality, a rule we don’t agree with. It’s not baseball any more. Next thing we know, we can put a line, like co-ed softball. We’ll just run off to the side, because you can’t have contact in co-ed softball.
"To me, I got thrown out on a similar play in the first inning. I’m out. Yeah, we could have probably made an argument that technically he got in front of the plate at some point. It’s not baseball. That’s the game we all grew up playing. It’s a joke. We’ve got guys getting punished for making great plays. If that same play happens at third base, at second base, at first base, nobody says anything about it. Just at home plate."
Even tougher for the Marlins is the fact both clubs entered with 53-54 records and 4 1/2 back in the National League Wild Card race.
In May, the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the San Francisco Giants after Starling Marte was initially called out at home. He was then ruled safe upon further review for the victory. In June, Pirates catcher Russell Martin needed a foot on the plate for a forceout only to see the call overturned against the Reds.
McGehee said he hoped a World Series game got decided by the home-plate collision rule. Perhaps then Major League Baseball would consider changing it over the offseason.
"What are you going to do then?" McGehee said. "Teams fight all year for a chance to play in the World Series. Let’s say we’ve got Game 7, and you’re trying to score from third base. What are you supposed to do? You supposed to slow up? You supposed to go around him? The catcher is supposed to give you the lane and play nice? It’s the World Series on the line. What are we supposed to do if the World Series ends that way? That’s not the way the game is played."
Less than an hour after the game, Major League Baseball issued a statement stating the following: "We have begun to examine the Crew Chief Review in tonight’s Reds-Marlins game, which resulted in a violation of Rule 7.13, the call being overturned a run scoring on the play. We plan to discuss this situation further with the appropriate parties tomorrow, and we will communicate with the clubs after our discussion about this play."
Before Redmond’s postgame press conference and the release of the statement, livid players still sat stunned at their lockers in the clubhouse.
Marlins president David Samson appeared in the media room to vent like the rest of the organization did.
"There’s absolutely nothing we can do," Samson said when asked if the club would protest. "All we’re going to do is try to win the next (three) games. The fact of the matter is everyone in baseball should be embarrassed by a call like that. When you’re trying to play a game of baseball and you’re trying to have a play at the plate — which is the single most exciting play — where Stanton makes a perfect throw, Mathis is in perfect position, gets it on a bounce, puts his knee this way and the player for the Cincinnati Reds doesn’t even slide, looks down and just says I’m out, we better protest. And six minutes later they call him safe. I’ve never seen anything like it. It is an absolute travesty.
"I compliment Mike Redmond for not going after through the phone into New York. Because that’s what I would have done."