But baseball has already missed a great opportunity. This might have been the game to finally usher Major League Baseball into the 21st century.
In large measure, it was the Texas Rangers who squandered the chance. They didn’t merely have a shot to go up 2-1 in the World Series — I grant you, that sounds a little absurd given the final score, a football score, 16-7 — but also, a chance to change the game. Celebrate Albert Pujols’ 14 total bases, 1,200 feet worth of home runs. Just the same, don’t forget a near debacle in the World Series. No one should be happy about that. With the possible exception of first base umpire Ron Kulpa, that is.
It was Kulpa who made an egregiously bad call in the fourth inning. With Pujols on first and none out, Matt Holliday hit a routine grounder to short. Elvis Andrus fielded it cleanly and tossed to Ian Kinsler for the force at second. It should’ve ended as a double play with the bases empty but for Kulpa, who somehow managed not to see Mike Napoli tag Holliday, pretty hard, on the left shoulder.
“I had him on the base at the time of (Napoli’s) tag,” Kulpa told a pool reporter after the game.
Kulpa — whom conspiracy theorists will note, hails from Missouri — was asked if he requested a second opinion.
“No,” he said. “On that type of play, I’m not going to ask for help.”
Of course not. It’s baseball, which is to say, it’s always been baseball. Things will be done as they’ve always been done. So what if it’s the World Series? There’s no need for instant replay.
Have you seen a replay? Kulpa was asked.
“When I walked off the field,” he said. “The tag was applied before his foot hit the bag.”
That’s about as good as you’re going to get from an umpire. Then again, that’s all you can expect, an admission of human error. The difference is, other major sports try to minimize human error. Major League Baseball seems intent on accentuating it.
Why? Because it’s baseball.
The score was still 1-0 Cardinals when Kulpa blew the call. By the end of the frame, it was 5-0. Instead of two out, none on, it was one out, one on. Then the Rangers seemed to lose their composure. The biggest blow of the inning was self-inflicted: Napoli’s throw home going wide, all the way to the backstop, allowing two runs to score while runners advanced to second and third to make it 4-0 with one out.
“I just yanked it,” Napoli said of his throw. “I didn’t make the play.”
You wonder if the Rangers were unnerved by the bad call.
“It just kind of snowballed on us,” he said.
But it’s the World Series, shouldn’t there be some form of replay?
“Nah,” he said quickly.
Napoli stood up by his locker, literally and metaphorically, answering every question about his Bad News Bears-style error. But instant replay? No thanks. He wasn’t going there.
From the ballplayer’s perspective, it’s not worth discussing, much less arguing. “It’s the call he made,” Napoli said of Kulpa’s sudden blindness. “He’s not going to change it. There’s nothing you can do.”
And why not?
Because it’s baseball.
It’s worth noting, however, that the Rangers mounted what appeared to be one of their October comebacks. After five — the fifth inning now feels about five days ago — the score was 8-6. You couldn’t help but wonder if the margin of victory (or error) would belong to Kulpa. Unfortunately, even before Pujols started launching home runs, the Rangers themselves rendered the point moot.
Their three errors were only the beginning. Remember: Napoli wouldn’t have been drawn off the bag in the first place if Kinsler’s throw wasn’t wall wide of the base. Then there was Scott Feldman walking consecutive batters — both of whom would score — in the fifth, and Alexi Ogando collapsing in the in sixth.
By the seventh, the game had devolved into a baseball version of garbage time. In the top of the ninth, a 41-year-old lefty, Darren Oliver, was left to face the right-handed Pujols. Pujols hit his third home run. Spectacular, but by then, the game felt like batting practice.
It was an historic night for Pujols. It was a sloppy one for the Rangers. But less memorable, was a missed opportunity for the major leagues.