Game 5 of the NLDS between the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs was a wild one.
Particularly the bottom half of the fifth inning, when it appeared the Cubs were aided by a blown call by home plate umpire and crew chief Jerry Layne to add two more runs during a frame in which they’d already scored twice.
When the Cubs’ Jose Baez swung through strike three for what would have been the third out, the ball got away from Nationals catcher Matt Wieters but the batter’s backswing hit the catcher in the mask. Instead of ruling an interference—which would have ended the inning—Layne, for no real reason, determined that the passed ball overrode the interference and that play was continue, as he’d explain after the game that sent the Cubs to the NLCS. Chicago won the series-deciding contest 9-8 (and would go on to nearly get jobbed by poor umpiring themselves in the following series).
This week, the league’s chief baseball officer, former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, admitted that Layne had blown the call.
“You know, the whole rule interpretation—there’s rules, and then there’s instructions to the umpires,” Torre told Mad Dog Sports Radio. “There’s separate books. And what Jerry’s feeling was, that the interference didn’t take precedent over the fact that the ball was already past [Wieters] when the contact took place.
“However, the rule states—and you probably have read the rule—that when contact is made—in other words, when the bat came around and hit the catcher’s mask—it’s a dead ball. It’s a dead ball. And that’s the one thing that should have taken precedence.”
Soon after the Nats’ elimination from the postseason, the team fired manager Dusty Baker.
According to Torre, the manager could have requested that the umpires—whose job is to know the rulebook—check the rules.
“And again, the manager—Dusty [Baker] in this case—he could have gone, which we remind the managers,” Torre said. “If you’ve got a question, a rule question—not a judgment question but a rule question—if you don’t like what the umpire’s telling you, ask him for a rules check. And they can do that. They can go to the replay center on the headset and check a rule.”
Baker might have lost his job for not knowing that rule. Something tells me Layne’s is safe despite his not knowing another.