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Foul ball? Johan Santana caught a break in his no-hit bid

Jun 2, 2012, 8:31 AM EDT

foul ball

Let’s be clear about something at the outset: this is not the bizarro Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce play. This is not an egregiously bad call that should have anyone renting one’s garments nor gnashing one’s teeth. But it is inescapable: Johan Santana caught a lucky break on a missed call in the sixth inning of last night’s no hitter that, if called correctly, would have ended it right there.

For those who missed it, in the top of the sixth, Carlos Beltran hit a would-be double down the third base line. Umpire Adrian Johnson called the ball foul. Beltran continued the at-bat and eventually grounded out.  Video of it can be seen here. Here’s a closeup GIF of the play. Worth noting: (a) the ball kicks up chalk; and (b) even though that is not the key inquiry of fair/foul — where it crossed the bag is — there is no way in the physics of this Earth that the ball could have crossed the bag in foul territory and then landed where it did, with its trajectory.  It was clearly a fair ball. UPDATE: Sorry: The ball was a line drive, not a grounder so it didn’t matter where it crossed the bag. Hitting the chalk is what mattered. Either way: fair ball.

That said, let’s take the play in its entirety and realize something: it was a fast-moving, bang-bang play in real time, the likes of which are called several times a week.  It was not rank incompetence that caused Johnson to miss that call. It was simply one of those calls that happen when you rely on humans to make them. I am not going to pile on Johnson for the call because it was a hard one that I bet even the best human umpires would miss fairly often.

Likewise, I am not going to say that Santana’s no-hitter was “tainted” or otherwise illegitimate. There have been 275 no-hitters thrown in major league history, and I guarantee you that a healthy number of them have had calls such as this one to aid them.  It’s just that now we have high-def television and unlimited replays to show us when they are bad. Within the context of history, there is no reason to believe that Santana got any more assistance in his accomplishment than any other number of pitchers got in any other number of no hitters. At least until someone can provide me with high-def video of Johnny Vander Meer’s games or whatever.

But facts are facts: Beltran’s foul ball really was a hit. If we had replay or tennis-style robots for fair-foul calls, it would have been ruled as such.  And even if I am not inclined to take a thing away from Santana’s accomplishment because it occurred in the game as it is currently constructed, baseball can do better with these things. And because we as fans all have the ability to see when such calls are missed as soon as they are, baseball should try to do better with these things.

  1. atworkident - Jun 2, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    Don’t all no hitters have some controversy? The no no earlier this year had a horrible strike three call that ended the game.

    You can find fault in anything.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Jun 2, 2012 at 1:32 PM

      Sorry, but I have to note another error here, where Craig says “anyone renting one’s garments.” Unless we’re talking about a tux for the banquet, I believe that would be “rending.”

      • mrmarkls - Jun 2, 2012 at 5:59 PM

        yes, the word is REND: to tear violently… Rending: tearing violently….

        Otherwise: good post….

  2. sictransitchris - Jun 2, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    Questionable call aside, they had 26 other at-bats to come up with a hit and didn’t. Congrats to Johan and a pat on the back to the Mets fans that have stuck with ‘em.

  3. Gordon - Jun 2, 2012 at 8:58 AM

    No hitter *

    • Gobias Industries - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:13 AM

      Original and funny commenter *

  4. okobojicat - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    “Worth noting: (a) the ball kicks up chalk; and (b) even though that is not the key inquiry of fair/foul — where it crossed the bag is — there is no way in the physics of this Earth that the ball could have crossed the bag in foul territory and then landed where it did, with its trajectory. It was clearly a fair ball.”

    Actually, the ball never bounced before the bag; thus where it lands is the only decider of fair vs. foul. Where it goes over the bag only matters if the ball bounced before the bag. This ball is in the air all the way until after the bag. For example, on fly balls down the lines where it lands matters and not whether it passed the bag fair or foul (most foul balls down lines cross several feet fair and then slice/hook towards the line).

    That said, it does appear to pick up some chalk. However, I’m with you. In a perfect world, we have computer umpires who rule that fair; we don’t have computer umpires and he made a decision quickly.

    I do wonder what he would’ve ruled if Santana had been getting pummeled; would he have been more likely to rule that a hit…

    • myopinionisrighterthanyours - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:15 AM

      Actually, the ball never bounced before the bag

      —————————————————————

      Um, yes it did. It was a grounder, not a liner.

      • cuseguy07 - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:19 AM

        No idea what game you were watching, but that was a line drive, not a ground ball. The first time it hit the ground was when it nicked the chalk AFTER the bag.

      • okobojicat - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:22 AM

        I just watched it again. 3 times. It never hits the ground until after the bag. I watched it about 12 times before I wrote the original post as well. it is a solid line drive hooking towards foul territory. But you know, whatever.

      • myopinionisrighterthanyours - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:23 AM

        Apologies. I stand corrected. I expect people like Harold Reynolds to know more than me.

      • okobojicat - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:30 AM

        “I expect people like Harold Reynolds to know more than me.”

        Ahhhh. I believe we have found your mistake. :)

  5. myopinionisrighterthanyours - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    I’m glad Craig pointed out about the ball crossing the bag in fair territory. That ball should have been fair even if it landed foul. It’s the key part of the rule. And it was 2-0 at the time. Could have changed the game entirely. For those of you thumbs downing sictansitchris, there is truth to what he said. Unfortunately, instant replay wouldn’t necessarily help, either. Since the foul call deadens the play, the best you can do is award the guy first. You can’t assume how the rest of the play would have played out.

    • cerveceros82 - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:23 AM

      I’ve just finished watching the replay about a dozen times, and it looks like a line drive and not a ground ball to me. I’d be curious why you guys think this was a ground ball.

      • myopinionisrighterthanyours - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:29 AM

        Because of announcers and analysts. I obviously didn’t pay too much attention the first few times through.

    • Kevin S. - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:50 PM

      No hitter aside, ask Beltran whether he would have rather had a single or a strike there. Instant replay might not have perfectly corrected the call, but it would have gotten things much closer to accurate.

    • critter69 - Jun 3, 2012 at 3:07 AM

      On a windy field (wind blowing right to left), a batter hits a very long ball that goes well inside the first base, then curves foul, the ball travels to the foul side of the foul pole, then the wind pushes it a few feet to fair.

      A long foul? Or a home run?

      Remember, it was fair when it passed first base. By your ‘logic’, it’s a home run.

  6. cerveceros82 - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:21 AM

    Craig, am I going crazy? I’ve watched the replay about a dozen times, and the ball doesn’t touch the ground before passing the bag. If that’s so, then it absolutely does not matter where the ball was when it passed 3rd, but only where it lands.

    • myopinionisrighterthanyours - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:25 AM

      Actually, I think where is crosses the bag is still in play. I believe it needs to reach the grass to be where it lands. Already been wrong once, though. I think this is still considered to be in the infield.

      • okobojicat - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:29 AM

        Grass vs. dirt is irrelevant. Once it passes the bag, and it has not yet bounced, at that point it only matters where it lands. The bag is the divider; it has nothing to do with dirt or grass or anything like that. Otherwise, the rule would vary greatly depending if you were playing on a dirt field, a turf field, on some crappy infields where the dirt stops 3 feet behind the bases, or a softball field or a little league field.

      • cerveceros82 - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:36 AM

        Official Baseball Rules

        Rule 2.0 Comment
        ” If a fly ball lands on or beyond first or third base and then bounces to
        foul territory, it is a fair hit.”

        On or beyond first or third is the key to fair/foul on a line drive.

  7. bmorethansteel - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    Video replay and this discussion doesn’t occur. Will never happen but just saying. I hear the league is feeling tons of recent pressure to come up with something. Oh well, congrats to Santana and his first NH.

  8. Chris Fiorentino - Jun 2, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    The ball was a line drive and not a grounder so it didn’t matter where it crossed the bag. Minor mistake by Craig here but that’s no big deal. The bigger point is well taken. I enjoyed busting the stones of the Mutts fans last night, but like a previous poster said…there were 27 outs made and the rest of the Cardinals, including Beltran on that at bat, did not get hits.

  9. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jun 2, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    Since no pitcher has a true talent level equaling a .000 BABIP, it is fair to say that every no-hitter comes with a tremendous amount of luck.

    • Walk - Jun 2, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      Absolutely. I have been fortunate enough to watch a few no hitters on tv, people tend to no hit my braves a bunch as well. But back on point you are right on target, seems every no hitter or perfect game i have watched have all had some things in common, magical night for a pitcher whether it is calling right pitch or the pitches themselves being nasty. Solid defense on most. Lastly they get lucky, whether an outfielder runs one down or they just get a call that breaks their way.

  10. mplsjoe - Jun 2, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    The point isn’t whether the game was tainted or should have as asterisk or whatever. The point is that MLB should institute instant-replay NOW, and ensure that calls like this one are correct.

    Should Santana or the Mets be punished because an umpire blew a call? No. Was it the worst blown call ever? No. But it was a blown call. The ball was fair. MLB should do everything it can to make sure that calls like this one are made correctly.

  11. emopell - Jun 2, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    At least it wasn’t an “official scorer” error. Bang bang play. Congrats to Johan!

  12. lumpyf - Jun 2, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    A ball hit 10 feet in front of the ump and he’s looking directly at it, it kicks up chalk and he still calls it foul? This is the epitome of an egregiously bad call.

  13. diehardcubbiefan4life - Jun 2, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    It was a fair ball. So what? Name 1 no hitter or perfect game without a controversy on 1 particular out. Congrats to Johan on making history, coming off supposedly declining years and major shoulder surgery as well.

    • mplsjoe - Jun 2, 2012 at 11:32 AM

      “So what” is that the call was wrong. We can pretend Santana didn’t give up a hit, but he did.

      • diehardcubbiefan4life - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:00 PM

        like i said, show me 1 NH or PG that DIDNT involve controversy

      • mplsjoe - Jun 2, 2012 at 5:01 PM

        So your point is that bad calls happen all the time? Fine. My point is that we should find a way to make sure that they don’t happen anymore.

        Also, there’s a difference between “controversy,” like the dispute over the final strike in Humber’s perfect game, and an actual, factual mistake. Reasonable minds can differ over whether Humber’s game should have been a perfect one. But the call in Santana’s game is demonstrably, factually wrong. No judgment involved. Those are two different situations. You’ll probably never be able to fix the former, but you should be able to fix the latter.

    • paperlions - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:36 PM

      No.

      Instead, why don’t you go back and find a controversial call for the last 10 no hitters…..I bet you can’t do it. Most no hitters don’t involve a bad call by the ump or official scorer…which is why such events are talked about when they do happen.

      • caine115 - Jun 2, 2012 at 3:14 PM

        Even Humbers perfect game ended with a check swing that the ump called at home. Checking at first could have been the difference between a ball and a strike. Every game has a close play. A batter called out at first with a tie on a grounder. It happens. No hitters are a combination of skill and luck. hard hit balls directly at someone and many factors

  14. sabatimus - Jun 2, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    How do FOUR umps miss this? Are the other three not looking? None of them see the chalk fly up and say “I’m gonna overrule this” or “let’s have a pow-wow about it?” That simply ridiculous. In some ways this is worse than what Jim Joyce did to Armando Galarraga: the proof that the umps messed up was literally RIGHT THERE on the FIELD, in the form of the mark the baseball made when it hit the chalk.

    • klingonj - Jun 2, 2012 at 2:00 PM

      your obsession with all umpires watching the same part of the play indicates you never umpired. each umpire has a n area of responsibility on a play. with the 3rd base ump and the plate umpire have responsibility for the play in question last night.

  15. nyetjones - Jun 2, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    1. We’d like the official record to reflect reality to the best available ability, right? It just seems dumb to put ourselves in a position where the official record has entries we know are 100% untrue.

    2. Sure, many of those past no-hitters may have been helped by similar calls – but “may have been” and “were” are importantly different, no? We are uncertain about 1937, but we’re actively lying to ourselves in 2012.

    3. Also, we don’t have replay of the past, but we do have write-ups and historical documents. So we could figure out which were likely to have been helped. Provided the writing was honest – which makes it all the more interesting that e.g. The Espn write-up say it “probably shouldn’t have happened” and others call this a controversial call. That’s wrong. It’s not controversial or probable – it was fair and the no hitter should not have happened. We are white-washing this in current historical documents.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Jun 2, 2012 at 1:25 PM

      As to your point 2: I recall reading that Addie Joss, a great pitcher in the early 1900s, got one of his no-hitters thanks to a blown catch/trap call, but lost another one due to another blown call.

  16. Chris Fiorentino - Jun 2, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    I also think to say Santana has never had a more dominating game, as some said last night, is just being silly. Santana pitched well last night but 5 walks and 134 pitches means he had a lot of help. The fact remains he has probably had at least 5 games with a better score than that game last night. Didn’t he strike out like 16 guys with no walks once? This I a guy who may have been the best pitcher in baseball from 02-08. He had to have had more dominating games. Sure this meant more to Mutts fans. So what? I hate the Mutts. But I love Santana. It’s Pedro, Doc then Santana on my all time favorite pitcher list.

  17. pceluvandhap - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    Wow, I can’t believe anybody can compare this call to that call against the Tigers guy last year. And to say this was worse? I watched that one live and said ” cool, perfect game” when the ball was thrown to first. I was absolutely amazed when that ump called him safe. This was a bang bang play that people sitting on their couches or at their keyboards have absolutely no clue what they would have seen or done. Everybody just throw your biases aside and be happy for a great pitcher who pitched a great game.

    • sabatimus - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:23 PM

      Because Joyce thought the ball was moving in the first baseman’s glove. It was an honest mistake, with only replay to prove him wrong. When there’s chalk dust flying up in front of everyone, and a ball mark where the chalk was, the evidence of a blown call is RIGHT THERE. Joyce’s was an honest mistake–the four umps who didn’t call it correctly last night is a travesty.

      • pceluvandhap - Jun 2, 2012 at 1:42 PM

        That’s baloney! Is that what he said? That was a routine play that happens a million times a season and this one time that guy thought the ball was moving in the first basemens glove. Believe what you want, but I’m calling B.S. on that one.

    • sabatimus - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:31 PM

      Not only this, but the Joyce call was a much harder one for the other umps to see and evaluate correctly–hence a discussion probably wouldn’t have solved anything.

  18. jjpileggi - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:17 PM

    There is simply no way history will view this as tainted. Umpire calls are part of the game. There have been many, many controversies in the game and while some (the Pine Tar Game) are defining in and of themselves, most become nothing more than a footnote or incidental discussion item.

    John Pileggi

    • drewsylvania - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:33 PM

      Pretty much. I don’t like it, but how many great pitching games have been aided by generous umps “getting into it”?

      (e.g. nearly half of the Braves starts in 1993)

  19. ihcone - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    An awesome display of hitting power by the Mets and a great pitching performance by one of the most dominating pitchers of our era (pitchers who have used steroids don’t count).
    Congratulations Johan!

  20. concernedcitizen001 - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    Blue strikes again! Somewhere, Armando Galarraga is shaking his head

  21. nyetjones - Jun 2, 2012 at 1:06 PM

    Also interesting – why is it framed as “taking something away from Santana?” seems like it is more denying that he ever had it.

  22. wkinsomnia - Jun 2, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    Listen…I don’t know why everyone is arguing about this to be quite honest. Was this supposed ‘no hitter’ a cause of Umpire misjudgment? Of course it was, but then again…what No Hitter has been so flawless and smooth that it didn’t require a bit of luck or an incorrect call in order to make it complete?

    I watch games all over the Majors on MLB.TV, and I saw Buehrles Perfecto, Halladays no-no, Santanas no-no, Humbers Perfecto…and you know what? They ALL had misjudged calls go in their favor. Number one culprit every time is the extremely expanded strike zones the closer it gets to the end of the game. Lastly, we should just commend these individuals on their achievements and not try to nit-pick and blemish what it was that they have just accomplished. Because, one bad call or not, it is still quite an amazing feat.

    • pceluvandhap - Jun 2, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      How do you give a thumbs down to that?

  23. historiophiliac - Jun 2, 2012 at 1:27 PM

    It’s getting to be like effing football around here. The great thing about baseball is that it’s a metaphor for life. Sometimes the calls are wrong and sometimes they go your way — that’s just how it is. And then we argue about it. It’s beautiful. I don’t want instant replay. It’s a crappy pursuit of “perfection,” which is an illusion as much as being “greatest.” I don’t want the sport I love to turn into that legalistic football crap where you have to stop for reviews all the time and the game becomes a slave to technology. This push for replays is a sad commentary on our society today. If The Tape is the all-knowing God, the church of baseball has lost its way. (PS Bud Selig = anti-christ)

    • mplsjoe - Jun 3, 2012 at 10:18 PM

      Wait until a blown call costs your team the Series. You’ll feel differently.

  24. chiadam - Jun 2, 2012 at 1:29 PM

    Every no-hitter was some luck in it (and quite a few one-hitters probably have their share of bad luck). More luck than skill, actually. Dallas Braden threw a perfect game, right? The defense rests.

  25. spudchukar - Jun 2, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    Congrats to Johan. And it came against the best hitting team in the NL. At the time of the disputed play the game was still a close contest, with the heart of the Cards order coming up. Hard to say if it would have made a difference, maybe, maybe not, but what is indisputable is the horrid ruling. Yes any ball that brings up chalk is a close call, that is why they have the lines, but what is even more difficult to understand is how Johnson could have blown the call. The ball lands comfortably10-12 feet in front of him, no real danger of striking him, it starts out fair, crosses the base fair (without bouncing) and lands smack dab on the middle of the line, not barely on the foul side of the line, right smack dab in the middle, kicking up chalk.

    And as has become customary, the denials begin. The egregious part is behavior after the poor judgment, as if the Cards didn’t have, and shouldn’t have had a beef. Whether or not MLB should institute instant replay is debatable, problematic, and hopefully still on the horizon, but what isn’t debatable is that MLB needs better umps.

    Johnson could go a long ways toward redemption if he would fess up to his error, e.g. Joyce, and help put the matter behind him. Again, Congrats to Santana.

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