Rally-killing out at the plate sinks Yankees

The worst rule change in baseball went against the Yankees in the fifth inning Monday night and cost them the chance to tie the game against the Rays. At issue was blocking the plate, which Tampa Bay catcher Ryan Hanigan clearly appeared to do as Stephen Drew attempted to score on a single by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Yet after a video review, plate umpire Vic Carapazza upheld his original call. The new rule has become so nebulous it is difficult to interpret. The catcher is now supposed to give a runner trying to score a lane, but he also has to try to catch the ball, which in this case was directly on target.

Major League Baseball issued a memorandum Tuesday clarifying plays in which the ball clearly beats the runner to the plate, which in truth was the case against Drew. Under previous rules, Drew would have no recoil but to collide with Hanigan and try to pry the ball loose.

That is not allowed any more, although Yankees manager Joe Girardi believes a runner in that situation has no alternative. “He had no place to go,” Girardi said of Drew. “I’m not sure whether to instruct my runners to knock the catcher over. I know the sprit of the rule, but maybe we should just go back to normal and suspend a player if someone gets hurt.”

I have seen enough of these plays at the plate this year to equate this rule with that in basketball in the 1970s when the dunk was outlawed in college and high school. Really dumb. Take a fan-pleasing aspect of the game and throw it out.

One of the most exciting plays in baseball is the slide home on a close call. At least it used to be before the powers that be decided to turn it into a dance routine. Is this ball or ballet? The inning was still alive, but Derek Jeter hit a bullet to second baseman Ben Zobrist, who flipped to second to double-up Chris Young.

The play at the plate obscured the fact that it was a rare bad send by third base coach Rob Thompson. Another rule of thumb is not to make the first out at the plate. Had Thompson held Drew at third base, the Yankees would have a run in and the bases loaded with none out and the middle of the order coming up.

The Yankees were marching back from a 4-0 deficit against Chris Archer, who is always been tough against them (5-0 career mark). The righthander was perfect for three innings before Ellsbury homered leading off the fourth. Archer began the next inning by hitting Chase Headley with a pitch and then proceeded to give up four straight singles, including a two-run knock by Young, the Mets’ free-agent bust, following Drew’s RBI hit. Two guys who have had miserable years accounted for the Yankees’ three runs that inning.

Young was playing left field because regular Brett Gardner is still bothered by an abdominal strain. Could he have aggravated it last week when he had that temper tantrum at the plate that got him booted from the game? Just asking. Also out with continuing hamstring soreness was Martin Prado, which is why Drew was in the starting lineup at second base.

Hiroki Kuroda, who had won his three previous decisions, was not sharp and failed to get through the fourth inning. James Loney hit a second-deck home run off Kuroda in the second inning and drove in one of the two Tampa Bay runs in the third with a single. Kuroda was replaced after yielding an RBI single to Zobrist in the fourth.

Seven Yankees relievers combined to shut the Rays down on two hits with two walks and four strikeouts for 5 2/3 innings, but the Yankees had only one hit after the fifth and could not prevent a 4-3 loss that further damaged their already perilous situation in the standings.

“It leaves us in a big hole,” Girardi said. “Basically, we have to win every day.”

Pretty tall order.

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