Umpire admits he botched call on double play catch

First base ump Jeff Nelson, along with everyone else, didn’t see pitcher – and not first baseman – catch ball

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comMay 26, 2013 

A day later, the bizarre double play that shouldn’t have been was still the talk of Safeco Field.

With runners on first and second and no outs in the second inning of Friday’s 9-5 loss, Jesus Sucre hit a ground ball to first base.

Texas first baseman Mitch Moreland gloved the ball and fired to second base, where Elvis Andrus stepped on second and fired back to first.

At game speed it looked as though Moreland retreated to the base and caught the relay throw from Andrus in time for the double play – complete with an emphatic out call from first base umpire Jeff Nelson.

But after closer inspection, Moreland didn’t have the ball in his glove.

Pitcher Justin Grimm, who was also covering first base but nowhere near the bag, had actually caught the return throw.

Nelson didn’t know. Mariners manager Eric Wedge didn’t know. Wedge actually came out to argue that he thought Moreland had pulled his foot on the play. The Mariners on the bench didn’t know.

It wasn’t until television replays that people began to catch on.

Before Saturday’s game, Nelson spoke to a pool reporter representing the local media to discuss the call.

“When you umpire that play, your focus goes to the bag, and you watch the foot touch the bag and listen for the ball hitting the mitt,” he said. “In this case, I ruled the ball was caught by the first baseman, and the ball was actually caught by the pitcher. The pitcher kind of came out of nowhere on that play. I didn’t pick that up. Obviously, looking at the replays, I wish I had.

“… I haven’t seen a play like this in 25 years.”

Wedge wasn’t going to say anything to Nelson before the game. He understood how the mistake was made.

“Hey, no one in here saw it, including myself,” Wedge said. “I was doing the same thing he was doing, watching the bag, listening for the pop of the ball. The only way anyone saw it was when they had access to the replay. By then, it was too late.”

After waiting a few innings, Moreland couldn’t keep the secret quiet any more.

“The first baseman for Texas told me a couple of innings later that the pitcher had caught the ball and not him,” Nelson said.

What was Nelson’s reaction when Moreland told him?

“I’ll kind of leave that up to everyone else to figure out,” Nelson said. “But we’re competitive and we like to get things right, and when we don’t, we’re just like anybody else. We want to get things right.”

The play was one of several calls this season where umpires have seemed to make egregious errors.

Wedge doesn’t think the umpires are making more mistakes, it’s just that the improved technology of the broadcasts is making missed calls easier to see.

“I think a certain part of this has always been in the game, but you can’t hide anything any more,” he said. “You have so many cameras at the ballpark, so many different angles, so much more media. And it’s all instant right now.”

ON TAP

The Mariners wrap up the three-game series with a game at 1:10 p.m. today. The Mariners are expected to send right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (5-1, 2.37 ERA) to the mound. Texas is scheduled to go with rookie right-hander Nick Tepesch (3-4, 3.98). The game will be broadcast on Root Sports, 1030-AM and 710-AM.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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