Running gaffe hinders Rays rally in ninth

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Ben Zobrist thought he made a base-running mistake. Evan Longoria thought first-base umpire James Hoye got the call wrong.

When the sequence was over, Longoria was ruled out and a possible Tampa Bay Rays rally fizzled in Thursday’s 6-3 loss to the visiting Baltimore Orioles.

In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Rays trailed 6-2 at Tropicana Field. A pitch from left-hander Brian Matusz hit Sean Rodriguez to start the sequence. Then Zobrist singled to right field, advancing Rodriguez to second base before right-hander Jim Johnson entered to face Longoria.

The Rays third baseman then smacked a Johnson pitch into the wall in left center, scoring Rodriguez.

But there was a problem: As Zobrist paused near second base on the hit, waiting to see if the ball would drop, the Longoria raced around first. Hoye ruled that Longoria passed Zobrist between first and second, resulting in the inning’s first out.

Shelley Duncan (pop out to second) and James Loney (pop out to third) were retired a short time later, after Yunel Escobar walked.  

Final score: Baltimore 6, Tampa Bay 3.

The official ruling: A single for Longoria, one RBI and a putout to first baseman Chris Davis. The unofficial result: Confusion for the Rays.

“From my angle, I thought it did not happen that way,” said Rays manager Joe Maddon, whose team fell to 1-2. “All I was wanting the umpires to do was to ask the home plate umpire (Jim Reynolds), who I thought had the best angle on the whole thing.

“I didn’t have as good of an angle as Jim Reynolds did, who also had a better angle, I think, than James Hoye did. All I was trying to do was have them get together and at least just ask. 

“Then I would have been fine with the whole thing. It wasn’t a heated discussion.”

But it was thorough. Maddon spent a few minutes campaigning for the umpires to conference about the dispute. Some fans booed.

But according to crew chief John Hirschbeck, as told to a pool reporter afterward, the call was a judgment decision and not reviewable.

“It’s a judgment, but like I told Joe (Maddon), that’s like a missed base,” Hirschbeck said. “That’s not something that an umpire just comes up with. That’s the kind of thing you either see it or you don’t.”

The interesting part: This has happened involving Zobrist and Longoria before. On June 27, 2011, in a game between the Rays and Cincinnati Reds at Tropicana Field, Longoria passed Zobrist after a Matt Joyce flyball in the sixth. Longoria rounded second, thinking the fly would drop. Along the way, he passed Zobrist, who was returning to second to tag up. Longoria was called out.

“It was a base-running mistake,” Zobrist said Thursday. “If I (could) go back, I would have rather gone right at second base and waited to see what happened. If they catch the ball, then run back to first base. It was unfortunate.”

Said Longoria: “I talked to Zo after the game, and he said he thought he made a mistake in not being closer to second base, which I can see from his perspective. But I could say the same thing for myself and probably say that I could have looked up and picked up where he was. The bottom line was that I didn’t think it was the right call.”

Whatever the truth may be, it sure led to some confusion.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.