Debated call swings momentum to Tigers
Ruling that Span dropped ball sparks six-run inning vs. Twins
DETROIT -- Often, all it takes is one play to shift the momentum of a game. For the Twins, they believed that play occurred in the sixth inning of their 11-6 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday night.
Minnesota believed it was a catch by center fielder Denard Span. The umpiring crew had a differing opinion.The Twins were leading, 6-5, at the start of the sixth when left-hander Ron Mahay entered the game to face Johnny Damon with one out and the potential tying run at first base. In the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Damon hit a fly ball to the left-center gap. Span made a dead sprint across the field -- he was positioned in right-center -- and it appeared, at least at first glance, that he had made a stunning catch when the ball landed in the glove of his outstretched arm. But as Span tried to slow his momentum down to reverse, spin and transfer the ball to his throwing hand, it wound up on the ground. And that is where the opinions of the Twins and the umpires differed. Third base umpire Paul Emmel initially ruled it as a non-catch. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire went out to argue and the umpiring crew convened, but the ruling stood. "I felt I caught the ball," Span said. "I'm not sure what he saw. I can't speak on what he saw, but I know I caught the ball. I went a long way, all the way from right-center to left-center, to try to catch the ball going full speed. The ball hit my glove, I tried to slow down, get momentum to reverse spin and throw the ball. That's when the ball came out." Rule 2.00 states that "In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional." "It's not how the ball goes into your glove, it's how it comes out," Emmel told a pool reporter after the game. Emmel explained that for the play to have been a catch, with the subsequent drop coming on the exchange to his throwing hand, Span would have had to establish "voluntary release" of the ball. The umpires believed that Span did not intentionally release the ball from his glove to make the exchange. Gardenhire was ejected by home plate umpire Gary Darling as he argued the call after the conference ended. "He said [Span] caught the ball, saw him take a couple steps, and when [Span] spun around, they lost sight of the ball, and that's it," Gardenhire said. Told of Gardenhire's description of the explanation, Emmel said that was not correct. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he didn't get a good look at it. "I'm 65 years old," Leyland said. "I can't see that far." Damon, who wound up at second on what was ruled an error, said that the only thing he saw was that the ball hit the ground. "I don't know how they could've changed [the ruling] with guys standing on second and third," Damon said. "Going to the replay, I mean, if he catches it, he's on SportsCenter. And I don't think he ever had possession of it." Whether the play was a catch or not may be disputable, but the fact that it changed the momentum of the game is likely not. Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said the reaction in the dugout reflected that the non-catch call could wind up being big for them. "Relief, like yeah, we're going to get a little momentum," Inge said of the feeling amongst his teammates. "I don't know. I'm glad it worked out in our favor." "I think it just put us in a good opportunity, put us in a good spot, where a couple big hits here and there were going to open the game up a little bit," said Tigers rookie outfielder Brennan Bosch. "And that's what happened. When you have a talented group that's fighting and grinding, you're never out of anything." That's exactly what the Tigers proved. Following the non-catch, they went on to score six runs in the inning en route to capturing their victory. "Funny things happened that inning," said Twins reliever Jesse Crain, who later that inning gave up three straight doubles in the span of four pitches, scoring five runs for the Tigers. "Obviously, that Span catch is right in front of us. It looked like he caught it, but they didn't see it that way. That turns the whole inning around, the momentum. It's just funny how it turns out that way. But it's baseball. Weird things happen."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. Jason Beck contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.