PHILADELPHIA -- The play everyone in Philadelphia would have been talking about had the Phillies not eked out a 5-4 Game 3 win over Tampa Bay came in the seventh inning and might have been the kind of play that would have made umpires (not to mention the Phillies and their fans) cringe for years.
With Philadelphia leading 4-1, Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford led off the seventh with a bunt single. Except, he looked out. And television replays suggested he was out.
Crawford pushed the ball down the first-base line, and Phillies starter Jamie Moyer scrambled over to get it. He wound up diving and making a sort of shovel pass to first. With Crawford bearing down on him, first baseman Ryan Howard reached out and caught the ball with his bare hand.
That's, I think, where the problem arose. From the television replays, it appeared as if first-base umpire Tom Hallion was anticipating a bang-bang play -- which it was. But as such, he appeared to be watching the first-base bag to see when Crawford was going to get there.
Which means he wasn't watching Moyer's throw to Howard (partly, it appeared, because he didn't have a good angle, he was partly screened by Howard). The logical assumption is that Hallion was listening for the thud of the baseball into Howard's glove, and would measure that against what his eyes told him regarding Crawford's foot speed.
But there was no thud of the glove when Howard made his stabbing catch bare-handed.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel came out to argue, but the call stood.
And in a matter of moments, Philadelphia's 4-1 lead was sliced to 4-3 because Crawford and Dioner Navarro both scored in the seventh.
Howard said he did not speak with Hallion about the play.
"It happened so fast, I don't know what angle he had," Howard said.
Howard also said that as the game moved along, some of his teammates who had seen the replay in the clubhouse told him Crawford was out.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins likened it to the infamous Don Denkinger call at first base in the 1985 World Series between Kansas City and St. Louis. That came in Game 6, with St. Louis leading 1-0 in the ninth inning. Royals leadoff batter Jorge Orta hit a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who tossed to pitcher Todd Worrell covering the bag.
Denkinger called Orta safe, but replays showed that he was out. Kansas City came back to win the game, pull even in the series after six games, and win Game 7.
"These guys are here because they're some of the best," Rollins said of the umpires. "But if they're out of position, they need to get back into position."