TINSMAN: World Series umpiring has gone off the rails

Brian Tinsman
October 30, 2019 - 12:00 am

It has been 23 years since a manager was ejected from a World Series game, but Washington Nationals skipper Dave Martinez earned his tirade in Game 6.

The situation, which has been simmering all series, went nuclear in the seventh inning as Trea Turner legged out an infield single down the line. The throw was off target down the first baseline, and Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel reached into the path of the runner.

His empty glove collided with Turner, and the ball got away. Turner took second base as the right fielder corralled the ball.

Then Turner was called out. What?

Umpires made the judgment call that he ran too far inside the baseline, thus interfering with the throw. It's a rule that is on the books but is called with the regularity of a balk.

By rule, Turner was out and Yan Gomes, who advanced to third, was forced to return to first base.

The Nationals have endured a buffet of minor umpiring errors, mostly around the suspect strike zone. Even MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who joined Grant Paulsen on the 106.7 The Fan pre-game show acknowledged that an electronic strike zone is in the works, but is probably still a few years away.

But this was egregious: in the late innings of a one-run World Series game, how could the umpires choose to make a judgment call?

Turner pleaded his case as he walked back to the dugout. Martinez jogged out of the dugout, trying to keep his frustration down.

After all, they had already been through this in the first inning, when Turner was also called out on a play where he clearly beat the throw to first base. After review, that play was quickly overturned. 

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After a discussion, the umpires huddled under the headsets and talked to the league offices for what seemed like an eternity. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine what they were talking about (detailed below).

After several agonizing minutes, the play was upheld and Turner was called out. Gomes returned to first base. Nationals stewed in the visiting dugout.

On the next pitch, Adam Eaton popped out softly, turning what could be a rally into a two-out situation. 

In stepped Anthony Rendon, who crushed a long home run, stretching the Nats' lead to 5-2. Turner and Martinez were among the first to celebrate the blast, but the relief was short-lived. After all, it should have been a three-run blast instead of two.

Juan Soto lined out to end the inning, and as the TV broadcast went to the commercial break, Martinez went after the umpires.

With only bench coach Chip Hale holding him back, Martinez let loose a season’s worth of tension and frustration, jabbing his finger in the face of the crew chief until he was ejected:

Keep in mind that Martinez is just weeks removed from a heart procedure and probably doesn’t respond well to stress. But how many bad calls can the Nats weather before he unloads?

Coming back from commercial break, Fox broadcaster Tom Verducci explained that interference calls are umpire judgment calls, and those calls are not reviewable. So who knows what was discussed during the long non-review review process.

In response, the Nationals protested the outcome of the game, a move that was disallowed by MLB because it was a judgment call in question.

Essentially, Martinez had no other official recourse but to get thrown out.

Twenty-three years to the game since Bobby Cox was last ejected in the World Series, and even Cox would be proud of this performance.

Brian Tinsman has covered D.C. sports since 2011, both from the team marketing and skeptical fan perspectives. Tweet your criticisms @Brian_Tinsman.