Larry Vanover wouldn’t take questions two nights ago about Gary Sheffield’s controversial homer to left. Tonight, the umpiring crew chief did give his explanation for reversing Daniel Murphy’s sixth-inning double to right field into a two-run homer that spurred the Mets to a 7-4 win over the Nationals.
First, a quick recap of what happened. With one on and no outs in the sixth, Murphy hit a long fly ball to right field. Adam Dunn took a couple steps back but gave up on it, assuming it was going to be an easy home run. But the ball fell to the warning track and bounced up against the wall, so Dunn picked it up and threw the ball in to complete a 9-4-2 out at the plate.
Vanover and his umpiring crew, though, huddled together and then decided to review the play on TV screens underneath the ballpark. After a five-minute delay, they emerged and changed the call to a home run.
I was one of four pool reporters who spoke to Vanover afterward. He explained that it was a difficult thing to see in live action, because the yellow “Subway” sign that hangs 30 feet over and eight feet in front of the right-field fence is bright and the white ball can disappear as it passes by it. Upon watching replays provided by MLB’s advanced media office in Manhattan — and he confirmed they got both the SNY and MASN feeds — Vanover and his mates agreed they saw the ball “change directions” as it passed by the Subway sign. Which they felt meant the ball had to glance off it. Which made it a home run.
“It was a very difficult call,” Vanover said. “We took all the information from the group consultation and from the replay, and that’s how we came up with our answer. When you look at the replay, you can see the ball does disappear into the yellow sign and it does change direction. That’s how we made the call.”
Manny Acta and the rest of the Nats, who saw their own replays after the game, were not nearly as confident as Vanover and his umpring mates were.
“How can the ball hit the top, come back down and then go forward again to the Modell’s sign [on the outfield fence]?” Acta asked. “It’s just unexplainable.”
Dunn, who admittedly shouldn’t have given up on the play and might have caught the ball on the fly and erased any doubts at all, said he is positive the ball didn’t strike the overhang.
“I didn’t think there was any way possible that ball could have been a homer,” Dunn said.
The larger point: The Nationals were on the wrong end of two replay calls in the last three days, and Acta believes the system has some serious flaws.
“Something has to be done,” Acta said. “Because this was supposed to be to help make the right call, help the umpires. It’s supposed to be a clear-cut home run. If it is so inconclusive like the last couple of days, then the call shouldn’t be changed. They either need to get more, better feeds or something.”