Umpires miss Sheff's contact play

Umps miss Sheff's contact play

NEW YORK -- The two-run home run Mets rookie catcher Omir Santos hit in the ninth inning to beat the Red Sox in Fenway Park on Saturday night wasn't at issue once the umpires reviewed replays of his fly ball and determined it had struck the top of the Green Monster, above the home run line. But if Santos' ball had been ruled a double, then what?

It might have become a little messy, because as Santos' drive approached the top of the Monster, the umpires were doing what almost everyone else in Fenway was doing -- watching its flight. Consequently, what occurred at third base -- or just beyond it -- involving Gary Sheffield went unseen by the crew of Joe West, Ed Rapuano, Chad Fairchild and Paul Nauert.

Sheffield was on first base when Santos swung at a high fastball from Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. With two out, Sheffield was running so he was approaching third base with an apparent chance to score the tying run as the Red Sox outfield pursued the odd and high, short-hop carom. After Sheffield rounded third base, he gently collided with third-base coach Razor Shines, seemingly using Shines to decelerate.

Baseball rules generally prohibit contact between coaches and base runners, so if Santos' fly ball had been ruled in play -- that was the initial ruling -- Sheffield could have been called out for contact with the coach, and, had he been, the Mets' would have lost, 2-1, at that point.

However ...

None of the umpires saw the contact. Mike Port, MLB vice president for umpiring, happened to be at Fenway on Saturday night, and the following day he spoke with members of the crew and determined each had duties other than watching Sheffield after he had touched third base.

"They were not aware of contact," Port said Tuesday from his midtown office.

And review of the videotape would have been of no use, because video review is restricted to home run decisions -- fair or foul, over the fence (or a home run line) or not.

And even if the umpires had witnessed the contact, there is no guarantee they would have ruled Sheffield out. Port noted rules say a coach can not enhance or assist a runner's progress. The umpires Saturday night would have had to see the contact as an attempt by Shines to assist Sheffield. Or if Sheffield was intent on stopping and the umpires believed he used Shines to slow down, the coach would be guilty of a different kind of assist.

"Any contact has to be viewed in context," Port said. "It's umpire's judgment."

But the umpires have to see the play in question.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.