Adversity has been the hallmark of the Arizona State University baseball program in 2011. From the beginning, the deck was stacked against this plucky, talented group of college students.
Just when it seemed like the Sun Devils were moving in the right direction, a pair of conspicuous calls in Game 3 of the Super Regional between ASU and the Texas Longhorns have caused quite an uproar west of Austin.
For those of you that missed it, I'll paint you a picture.
It's the top of the fourth inning, and the Sun Devils have one man at first (Joey DeMichele) and one out. Zack Wilson is at the plate, and he has worked a full count against Texas pitcher Sam Stafford. DeMichele takes off on the full count, and Wilson takes ball 4 and begins to make his way to first base.
Texas catcher Jacob Felts, unsure of whether or not the pitch was a ball or a strike, throws a rocket to second base in an attempt to throw out DeMichele. The ball goes into the outfield, and DeMichele scampers to third base. But wait!
After the umpires deliberate, it is ruled that Wilson interfered with Felts' throw to second. DeMichele was sent back to first base, and the Longhorns were rewarded an out. Instead of first and third with one out, the Devils were left with one man on first and two outs.
Before I go into my side of the story, I bring forth reaction from SB Nation's Texas blogger, Peter Bean:
On the interference call, I was at the game so I didn't get a good look at the actual interference, but from what I was told it looked questionable on TV. But once the umpire indicated actual interference, I started yammering in the stands that by rule the batter was out and that the lead runner -- also by rule -- could not advance. So supposing there was interference, they got it right, from my understanding of the rules. Whether there was actually any interference I can't really say.
Mr. Bean is correct about the rules of interference. Unfortunately for Arizona State, a rule was applied even though it was inapplicable to the situation -- once the batter is awarded a walk, he becomes a runner and the runner going from first to second is no longer technically attempting a steal.
Per the official NCAA baseball rules, the batter becomes a baserunner "instantly after four balls have been called by the umpire" per Section 2 of Rule 8, Letter B. He is awarded first base and should have right of way to head that direction.
After reading through the rulebook, there is no rule that stipulates that Wilson did anything wrong by heading to first base after he was issued a walk.
Due to the fourth ball, DeMichele should have been awarded second base, and Wilson awarded first. You cannot interfere with a play that shouldn't be happening in the first place.
After Wilson was called out, the Devils were quickly retired and did not score again for the remainder of the game.
Nomar Garciaparra was doing the color commentary for ESPN during the game, and he could not stop talking about this interference call.
As for ASU athletic director Lisa Love, she wasn't amused by the wacky sequence of events. Here's a tweet from her today:
Called the ncaa baseball championship director. They are reviewing the ball four, batter interference call. Will tweet what is learned.
In the fifth inning, ASU pitcher Mitchell Lambson was called for a balk that allowed the tying run to score. "I have no idea really," Lambson said when asked about the umpires. "I was just pitching out there, and they made the calls."
Another take from Peter Bean:
It was the right call in my mind, and frankly I was surprised it took them that long to call Lambson on a balk. The twitch in his wind up was decidedly close to a full pause, which of course you can't do. I thought it was inevitable he was going to get called on one, although it was mighty fortunate for Texas that they got a run out of it when the ump finally made the call.
At the end of the day, you can't blame these two calls for the loss. The Sun Devils had plenty of opportunities to defeat Texas, but were unable to score any runs after Riccio Torrez hit a two-run home run in the top of the first inning.
These umpires broke one of the cardinal sins of officiating on Sunday night, however. They influenced the outcome of a game, and it was at the Sun Devils' expense. A road series in Austin is hard enough to deal with, but ASU just couldn't overcome the raucous fans and the questionable umpiring.