The call, according to the rule book, was right. The problem is it's not a rule a umpires normally enforce that strictly on double plays.
With Melky Cabrera on first and no outs in the 10th inning of the Yankees' 4-3, 13-inning victory in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series Saturday, Jorge Posada hit what look for all the world to be a sure-fire double play grounder.
Second baseman Macier Izturis fielded the ball, tossed to shortstop Erick Aybar at second, who then made the relay back to first in time to get Posada.
It sure looked like a double play, except second base umpire Jerry Layne ruled Cabrera safe because Aybar didn't touch second.
Layne was right, according to the rulebook. Aybar in fact did not touch second.
The problem is that 99 percent of the time, umpires don't enforce that rule that strictly on double plays. It's called the neighborhood play.
Since Little League, middle infielders are taught that if they straddle the bag or are very close to it on double plays, umpires will call the runner out. It's not because umpires, players and coaches don't believe middle infielders don't have to touch the base, rather it's because of safety.
Turning the double play is one of the most dangerous plays in the game. Middle infielders are moving very quickly and usually have a runner sliding into them at full speed trying to break up the relay to first.
Knees and ankles are vulnerable. Bones can be broken. A tough fall may result in a concussion. And, unlike catchers, the middle infielder is trying to make this play without the benefit of any protection.
The last thing anyone wants and the last thing the sport needs is a rash of injuries to second basemen and shortstops.
So umpires grant the neighborhood play. We see it every day, year after year after year, and rarely, if ever, does an umpire call a runner safe. In fact this year, until Saturday, we hadn't seen that call in a Yankees game, despite seeing Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter be very close to the bag but never quite touching it on occasions too numerous to count.
Heck, we saw more egregious instances when a middle infielder wasn't close to the bag but got the call.
Aybar, in Game 2, was not outrageously far from the bad. It was not egregious. And no one would have batted an eye if Cabrera had been called out.
But that's not the call Layne made. Mike Scioscia, rightfully, argued the play and I have to agree with the point he made to Layne.
It's one thing to make that call in April or May or June, but to make that call in the 10th inning of Game 2 of the ALCS, I'm sorry, but that's just poor judgment on Layne's part.
The playoffs are not the time to suddenly get very strict or very lax in enforcing rules. Umpires should be officiating games exactly the same way they had been throughout the regular season.
Layne's call was outside the norm, but fortunately, it did not affect to outcome. The Angels escaped the inning without allowing a run.
Now I expect a significant number of Yankees fans to disagree with me. The Yankees got the benefit of the call, and it was, after all, correct by the rulebook.
But I have to ask this, what if the roles were reversed? What if it was Jeter or Cano making the turn and Layne didn't grant them the neighborhood play? Would those fans honestly say with all integrity that they would be supporting Layne in that spot?
My gut tells me they would have been screaming or Tweeting at the top of their lungs about the audacity of Layne suddenly not granting the neighborhood play.
And at the end of the day, in addition to getting the calls right (which has been a huge challenge this postseason) all we want from our umpires is to be fair and officiate the game exactly the same way for each team with consistency throughout the season and playoffs.
Layne failed to do that. That's why his call was wrong.
Joe Girardi made it official Sunday. CC Sabathia will start Game 4 on three days' rest against Scott Kazmir. Sabathia on three days' rest is still better than Chad Gaudin. It's a good move and I hope after that game the Yankees will be dancing the Rally Monkey's grave.