Umpire's call on Damon draws attention
Yankee looked safe at first base on third-inning groundout
ANAHEIM -- A spate of disputed calls throughout the 2009 postseason has put the umpires under the microscope like never before, especially as second-guessers tuning in on the tube or the Internet have access to more instant replay angles than before.
The issue has become important enough that on Thursday, The Associated Press reported that Major League Baseball will break tradition and use only experienced umpires for the World Series, which begins Wednesday. In 24 of the past 25 World Series, the umpiring crew has included at least one umpire working the event for the first time.
Unfortunately, in the Angels' 7-6 win over the Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday, the umpires once again left themselves open to closer inspection.
With two outs and no one on base in the third inning, Johnny Damon sent a ground ball to first base, where Kendry Morales fielded it and tossed to Angels pitcher John Lackey, who was covering the bag. Damon, sprinting down the line, was called out by first-base umpire Dale Scott. But video replays clearly showed that Damon was safe at first.
That was the final out of the inning, but who knows what might have happened had Damon been ruled safe? Maybe the Yankees would have taken advantage of the situation, though given the way Lackey was dealing early in this one, that's very difficult to assume.
In the top of the seventh, and the Yankees, trailing, 4-0, had one on and one out. Switch-hitter Jorge Posada, batting from the left side, worked the count full against Lackey, who threw him a four-seamer at the knees, on the inner edge of the plate.
Posada took it and appeared to benefit from a tight strike zone, getting a ball four call from home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth when the pitch easily could have been deemed a strike.
Known to let his emotions show, Lackey was not shy about arguing with Culbreth. Pitching coach Mike Butcher had to come out to the mound to calm the Halos' ace down. Culbreth also made a visit to the mound.
"I'm sure you guys all saw the replay," Lackey said, when asked about the pitch.
Lackey walked the next batter, Derek Jeter, then retired Damon. But reliever Darren Oliver came on and let all three inherited runners score, sparking the Yankees' six-run outburst.
The disputed calls fit with the trend of the postseason and this series, in particular. In Game 4, Nick Swisher was called safe on second base on a pickoff throw that clearly beat him back to the bag, then was called out at third base on an appeal play minutes later, after replays of a would-be sacrifice fly showed he had waited long enough before tagging up and running home.
Later in that game, Robinson Cano was called safe at third base after Angels catcher Mike Napoli tagged him while he was off the bag.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.