Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sabathia Ruling May Have Been Different If It Happened In Late Innings

It's been over a week and I realized that I never weighed in on the CC Sabathia/maybe no-hitter controversy.

You remember that, don't you? The Brewers' Sabathia pitched a one-hitter against the Pirates on August 31, the lone hit being a dribbler off the bat of Andy LaRoche that Sabathia tried to field bare-handed. But he couldn't come up with the baseball as LaRoche scampered to first base. Official scorer Bob Webb ruled the dribbler a base hit, reasoning that LaRoche was too close to first base for Sabathia to have thrown him out, even if the pitcher had fielded the ball cleanly. It's a call that happens hundreds of times during any given baseball season.

But it's not often that such a call will have no-hitter implications.

The play on LaRoche occurred in the fifth inning -- leading off the inning. So while Webb's decision technically broke up a no-hitter, it was only the fifth inning.

I wonder how Webb, or any official scorer, would have ruled the play had it happened in, say, the 8th or 9th inning?

The pressure would have been unreal on Webb. Doesn't matter where the game was played (it was in Pittsburgh), for a no-hitter is history, and it should be as unblemished as possible. I mean no disrespect to Webb, but I wonder if he would have ruled the play an error if it happened late in the game. Why? Because there's another adage in baseball that says a ruined no-hitter, when broken up late, should be the result of a "no question" hit, and certainly shouldn't be a bunt. LaRoche wasn't bunting, but his dribbler was like a swinging bunt. Webb, had he ruled "E-1", would have baseball tradition on his side; he could have rightly argued that a no-hitter should only be broken up if the play in question is unequivocally a hit. In other words, "ties" go to the pitcher.

Yes, Webb would have come under fire for that, too, but it wouldn't have been as hot as what he faced in the days after the Sabathia incident. The Brewers sent a DVD of the play to MLB offices, hoping for a reversal. It would have been the first no-hitter in history to be awarded after the game had ended. But here's a tasty little morsel of ruledom: any reversal, even if initiated by MLB, has to be agreed to by the official scorer himself. Talk about power!

Well, it didn't get that far; MLB supported Webb's decision, sparing him the pressure of having to change it with the baseball world breathing down his neck. Probably fell under the category of not being "conclusive" enough to change the call.

Anyhow, here's the Sabathia play. You make the call. My opinion? From the third base camera, it certainly looks like, had Sabathia made the play cleanly, LaRoche would have been out. I think Mr. Webb got it wrong, and CC got screwed.


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