For a few moments, it appeared that the Texas Rangers were having their own Don Denkinger moment. In the fourth inning of Game Three of the 2011 World Series, Matt Holliday grounded into what looked like a sure double play. Cardinals fans can say that without hesitation since we had seen this play far too many times. Ian Kinsler’s relay throw to first base sailed high and into the runner. Mike Napoli made a fine lunging catch and tagged Matt Holliday as he ran by. Holliday was ruled safe, even though instant replay showed that he was clearly out.
The Cardinals went on to score four runs that inning, and for a while it appeared as if that call was a turning point in the game. It might have had some effect because a throwing error by Napoli followed. Moments later, Rangers starter, Matt Harrison, would exit for the showers, turning the game over to the bullpen. In that context, yes it was a big play. But if you look a bit deeper into the box score, Ron Kulpla’s bad call at first becomes a footnote, rather than a turning point. Even if the Cardinals scored just half of their runs, they still win the game 8-7.
What we cannot do is let one or two bad calls turn us all into little Bud Seligs and start demanding rule changes to “improve” the game. Bad calls have always been a part of baseball, and over a long period they tend to even themselves out. One even happened in the 1964 World Series, and the Yankees never said a word about it.
After jumping out to a quick 1-0 lead in Game One, the Yankees pounced on Cardinals starter, Ray Sadecki for three runs in the second inning. The resilient Cardinals climbed back into the game, thanks to an RBI single by Sadecki.
The bad call happened in the fourth inning, with the Yankees still holding on to a 3-2 lead. With two outs, Ray Sadecki walks the Yankees pitcher. How many times has a two out walk, especially when given to a pitcher, come back to haunt a team ? It should have in this case.
Phil Linz is the next batter and he rips a hard line drive down the third base line. Cardinals third baseman, Ken Boyer, lays flat out and somehow gets his glove on the ball. It rolls away into foul territory, but Boyer is able to scamper over to it, pick it up and fire a bullet to Bill White at first base. First base umpire, Bill McKinley, threw up his right fist and called Linz out. Yankees manager, Yogi Berra, came out to argue the call, but soon returned to the dugout. The call stood. Even through the grainy replay technology of the day, it was clear that Linz foot was well on the base before White caught the ball. It was a close play, but McKinley got the call wrong.
The reason that this play is never mentioned – it didn’t factor into the outcome. Sure, Sadecki was a bit of a Jaime Garcia and could get rattled by something like a bad call. The truth was that he pitched just well enough to win, hardly dominating. In fact, the Yankees would add to their lead an inning later on three consecutive hits.
The game went back and fourth until the Cardinals blew it open in the eighth inning. 8 men came to the plate, and when Ken Boyer made the final out, they had extended their lead to 9-5.
Like Matt Harrison in Game Three of the 2011 Series, Yankees starter Whitey Ford was not going to finish the game, nor was Cardinals starter, Ray Sadecki. The game was determined by the effectiveness of the respective bullpens, and that was the story of Game One in 1964, just as it should be for Game Three in 2011.
Bad calls happen, they have always happened, and they will happen again. As fans, we should all take a collective deep breath, and remember this. Let’s not overreact and try to fix something that is not broken. Sometimes you end up breaking something far more precious – the purity of the game itself.
If you find a Cardinals fan defending an umpire’s bad call while still holding a grudge towards Don Denkinger somewhat hypocritical, it was not that bad call in Game Six of the 1985 World Series that still fuels the frustration. It was his strike zone in Game Seven, and there is nothing that instant replay can do to fix that.