A Learning Opportunity
Tuesday night’s Tides game, a 6-1 loss to the Buffalo Bisons, was hardly a masterpiece. The first few innings were played at a snail’s pace because Miguel Gonzalez, the Tides’ starting pitcher, was striking a lot of batters out and because Matt Harvey, the highly-regarded Buffalo pitching prospect, couldn’t consistently find the strike zone. That led to a bunch of deep counts, two-strike foul balls, and just a general slowing down of the game. Only the fact that the last two innings were played in mop-up mode kept the time of the game at 3 hours even.
However, there was one play that we’ll never forget, in large part because of a coincidence. In the top of the third inning, Bison Rob Johnson doubled to deep left-center field. Michael Fisher singled up the middle, and the slow-moving Johnson was held at third. Gonzalez walked Corey Wimberly. Ronnie Cedeno blooped a Texas Leaguer into center field, and Tides center fielder Nate McLouth decoyed the runners into thinking he might catch the ball. When he was unable to do so, he picked the ball up and threw to third base to try to force Fisher. Third baseman Miguel Tejada failed to handle, or even block, the throw and the ball went into the dugout. On the dead ball, the umpires awarded each runner two additional bases. Fisher and Wimberly both scored, but Cedeno trotted across the infield, past the pitchers’ mound, and took third base without touching second.
In the press box, we were confused. We had never seen a runner go directly from first to third on a dead-ball play without touching second, and we weren’t sure if it was legal. And if it were illegal, could the Tides have appealed, using the dead-ball appeal procedure, that Cedeno had not touched second base? Well, of course the Tides could appeal, but would their appeal be upheld? And should their appeal be upheld?
Fortunately, a distinguished visitor was in the press box. Former Major League umpire Charlie Reliford was visiting in his new position as an umpire supervisor, evaluating arbiters Craig Barron, Jon Byrne, and Will Little. Mike Holtzclaw, the official scorer this evening, realized that we had an expert who could lend his authority to end our speculation. Sure enough, Reliford explained (1) that the runner had to touch all the bases; so (2) if the Tides did appeal, the runner should have been called out. He further explained that during a dead-ball, a runner once having claimed a base cannot go back and touch a previously-missed base, although he can do it during a live ball. And, there is no requirement that a runner proceed directly from one base to another during a dead-ball provided that he touch every base. So, Cedeno could have trotted across the infield; stopped one step short of third; realized that he needed to touch second; gone to second to touch it; and then gone to third. And that would have been perfectly legal. But suppose Cedeno touched third; realized that he needed to touch second base; gone to second to touch it; and then gone back to third. That would be illegal, and the Tides could have executed a successful appeal that Cedeno failed to touch second base.
A few years ago, a film crew was in Harbor Park working on a documentary about a Japanese umpire trying to make it as an umpire in America. Then-Tides manager Gary Allenson came out and carried on a dramatic argument with the documentary subject about a — well, not exactly borderline, but at least on the borderline of borderline — call. Allenson was ejected, and later the Tides all but confirmed that the argument was staged to provide some dramatic footage for the documentary. If you were suspicious, you might think that last night’s play was staged to provide a test or a teaching moment for Charlie Reliford and the umpires working their way up through the ranks. Reliford did ask the media relations director for a video copy of the play, presumably for instructional purposes.