DETROIT – A beautifully played weekend series between two of the best teams in baseball turned on a blown call.
In the top of the 11th of a 2-2 tie between the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers here Sunday, Texas loaded the bases with no outs for utility infielder Alberto Gonzalez, who bunted as Nelson Cruz raced home from third on a squeeze play. The ball hit Gonzalez's bat, then caromed off his right leg just above the knee before bouncing toward the mound. By rule, a bunted ball that hits the batter in the batter's box is ruled a foul ball. Home plate umpire Tim Welke missed it, and the Rangers took a 3-2 lead that would eventually hold up as the final score.
"We did not see the ball hit anybody on the field," Welke told a pool reporter after the game. "You can decide whatever you want and deduce from that. We called what we saw, and we didn't see him get hit."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland argued the call, but to no avail. After the game he was typically blunt: "Four guys missed it," he said. "It's part of the game. The ball clearly hit the man. But we didn't get the call."
Pressed on the play, Leyland got somewhat testy: "You don't need a quote from me," he said. "Talk about what you saw. The ball hit him in the knee, no question about it."
Sunday's drama came just three days after Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called for Major League Baseball to expand replay review to plays at the plate and all game-ending decisions. Unlike the missed call at home plate that ended Wednesday's Dodgers-Brewers game, Sunday's umpiring misstep did not come on the final play. Still, clear video evidence contradicting a call in extra innings could amplify the cries for replay.
Gonzalez admitted with a smile after the game that the ball did hit him.
Shortstop Elvis Andrus, who translated Gonzalez's comments from Spanish, credited his teammate with superb acting. "He didn't back off and wait," Andrus said. "He did a really good job."
Cabrera, who had moved from his usual third base position to first late in the game, rushed in from his post thinking the ball hit Gonzalez.
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"It took a weird jump," he said. "You gotta respect what the umpire said. But that play killed us."
The Rangers took three out of four from the Tigers and now stand at 13-3 on the season. Each of the team's losses, including Saturday night's defeat to Justin Verlander, were close games.
Thad Weber took the loss for Detroit on Sunday in his major-league debut.
Earlier in the day, the Comerica Park scoreboard replayed the most famous blown call in recent Tigers history – Jim Joyce's safe call at first at the end of what would have been Armando Gallaraga's perfect game in 2010. The replay was met by a chorus of catcalls.
Fans here had a similar reaction when the replay of Gonzalez's bunt hit the big screen.
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