DETROIT -- Forget what the standings read. If the Tigers and Twins are playing each other, it's coming down to a close play. Monday's game was tight enough that the decision over whether a fan touched Alex Avila's eighth-inning double -- and which fan touched it -- played a significant role in Detroit's 6-5 win.
It was a play where both managers came out to argue at different points. Not surprisingly, only one manager made it back to the dugout still in the game.
"It's always tough losing a game, but especially when it's out of the two teams' hands, and it's won or lost on [the call]," said Twins left fielder Delmon Young, who watched the ball the entire way. "You have to rely on good judgment. Sometimes it happens in your favor, and sometimes it doesn't. But unfortunately, I don't think it was in our favor today."
The ball was a low line drive that Avila poked just inside the third-base line before it rolled into foul territory. Two fans reached over the low railing separating the Comerica Park seats from the playing field and tried to grab the ball. It got past them, then skipped up off the concrete base at the bottom of the fence before hitting two other fans standing in the front row.
Jhonny Peralta, who was on first base, thanks to his two-out infield single three pitches earlier, took off on contact and kept going, continuing home after third-base umpire Gary Darling ruled the ball dead due to fan interference. Initially, Darling's raised arms seemingly indicated that Peralta would be sent back to third base.
But there's a key difference between a fan-interference call and a ground-rule double. Once a fan is ruled to have interfered with the ball while reaching out into the field of play, the umpires have the discretion to place any runners who were on base at the time where they deem appropriate, based on where they believe the runners would've ended up, had the ball not been touched.
"If a fan reaches out for the ball, then it's an umpire's decision on where to place the runner," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Leyland immediately marched out of the Tigers dugout to argue that Peralta would've scored. The umpires, meanwhile, conferred near third base to discuss what they saw.
"They didn't tell me anything," Leyland said. "I just said that run has to score, but they said right away that the run scores."
The ruling changed Leyland's mannerisms from raising his hands in frustration to clapping his hands at the go-ahead run. It quickly brought Twins manager Ron Gardenhire out from the Twins' dugout in a fury.
"I have no idea what they called it," Gardenhire said. "I still don't understand it. I don't have any opinion on it other than my opinion that we know it hit a fan in the stands and we know it went into the stands. Their call was not clear when I talked to them. I don't know how that runner scored."
While the interference ruling belonged to Darling, another umpire backing up the play -- either home-plate umpire Bruce Dreckman or first-base umpire Paul Emmel -- would normally place the runners. As crew chief, Darling gave the explanation to a pool reporter.
"We ruled spectator interference," Darling said, "and the runner would've scored without it."
That was the part that the Twins questioned.
"I saw it hit the side of the fence and saw it hit a fan," Twins center fielder Denard Span said, "so that's when Delmon threw his hands up. So when he threw his hands up, [Peralta] hadn't even got to third, so I was surprised. I thought for sure he was going to go back to third. So I don't even know who made the call or what happened."
Said Young: "It hit the fan in the orange and the kid right next to him and came back on the field. So it was a dead ball right there, and I don't think Peralta was even halfway to third base."
Replays confirmed the ball hitting a fan wearing an orange shirt and the child beside him. Darling confirmed after the game that the fan in the orange was the fan whose contact prompted the call.
"I had him reaching out," Darling told a pool reporter.
Replays suggested neither of them were reaching out into the field of play. Two other fans were clearly reaching over for the ball while it was still rolling, before it skipped up, but replays weren't clear whether they redirected it or touched it at all.
If they did, by rule, it would be fan interference. If they didn't, and the ball went out of play on its own before hitting the two fans who seemingly weren't reaching out, it would be a case for a ground-rule double.
Whichever fan touched it wasn't Gardenhire's concern. Peralta's placement was, as he argued and was eventually ejected by Darling.
"I don't care who it hit," Gardenhire said. "When it hits a fan in the stands, it's a ground-rule double and you don't score. However you want to call it, that guy doesn't score. So it doesn't make sense to me, and what they told me didn't make any sense, either."
Because Twins reliever Alex Burnett struck out Ryan Raburn for the third out, the call became the difference in whether the run scored. And the run ended up as the difference in the final score.
"Looking at the replay, when the fan touched it and where he was and where Delmon was, I thought he would've scored easy," Avila said. "That play's a judgment call for the umpire, and I thought they made the right call."