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Play at the plate angers Twins’ manager

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Injuring what was one of his hottest in the month of June to what could have been an avoidable play by Indians’ catcher Yan Gomes is not lost on manager Ron Gardenhire.

Ryan Doumit had been hitting .278/.345/.481 with three home runs, five doubles and a triple in June prior to suffering a sprained ankle in Cleveland on June 23. Since the incident, Doumit has sat out three games and has gone 5-for-20 (.250) without any extra base hits in his 21 plate appearances.

Doumit, who was coming into score on Oswaldo Arcia’s double, was forced to stutter step around home plate as Gomes swings left leg across the plate area for a brief moment. From his vantage point, Gardenhire’s contends that this move was an intentional attempt to divert Doumit’s current path.

"We had a great view from the dugout and the catcher didn't have the ball and at the last second he stuck his foot back on top of home plate," Gardenhire said on his 1500ESPN radio show. "Just kind of reached out behind him and stuck his foot there before the ball got home. That's kind of one of those not good plays in baseball. (Doumit) ends up spraining his ankle and we were pretty upset about that.”

Here is a clip of the offending play:


From the advantage of the replay, we can see that the play was all but over when Doumit arrive to the plate. The ball was both late and offline.

Ignoring Gomes for a moment. The interesting thing here is that Doumit does not slide. Certainly this does not change the fact that Gomes was in a place he shouldn’t be, but a slide would have made for a safe and injury-free arrival to home plate. Just three days prior when the Twins were taking on the White Sox, Doumit was thrown out at the plate on a close play (video here). Notice that Doumit does not slide at this play either – despite the fact that Justin Morneau was clearly waving for him to hit the deck. This play had just as much likelihood of Doumit injuring himself as did the Gomes play. Someone teach this man to slide.

Attachment 4675

Gomes could have been thinking for a split-second that he may have an opportunity to block a slide (which Doumit should have been doing) and apply a quick tag. That notion likely disappeared quickly as the chances of the ball beating Doumit to the plate vanished. Also, judging from the flight of the ball, he may have had intentions of trying to reposition himself to receive it but thought better of it as Doumit approached. The fact is it is hard to say if what Gomes did had malicious intent.

Going by the book, Gomes had no right to be positioned in the place that he was. In fact, simply being there is against the rules. According to the MLB rulebook, Rule 7.06 states that:

The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.
This rule has rarely, if ever, been enforced by umpires. On the other hand, baseball’s unwritten rules state that Gomes’ behavior was a huge no-no and could, ultimately, warrant retaliation.

"In that play, the plate was open, the ball wasn't going to be there and the next thing you know the guy sticks his leg out," Gardenhire said on his show. "(That) is not a good thing in baseball. It's kind of one of those unwritten rules that blocking the plate without the ball or trying to trip somebody ... (you look for) payback."

Eye for an eye. Tooth for a tooth. Catcher for a catcher.

Mostly due to the injuries to San Francisco’s Buster Posey or St. Louis’s Yadier Molina because of collisions at the plate, MLB’s rule has been debated at length over the past several years. It could prove to be a difficult act to completely abolish mostly because it is an event that takes two to tango: One, the runners barreling in and two, with the catchers walling off home plate. In most cases catchers are portrayed as innocent victims, catchers have their own methods which can force the runner into a full-out offensive – be it a hard slide or a lowered shoulder.

While MLB could suspend those runners who turn their bodies into projectiles, there still exists the practice of teaching catchers how to block home plate from the incoming runner which exposes the catchers to a variety of injuries. Ryan Doumit is no stranger to this education process considering in 2008 while he was in camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates, then-manager John Russell, a former catcher himself, gave Doumit additional attention showing him techniques to “blocking home plate”. These lessons obviously were handy when Doumit suffered an ankle sprain in 2011 after the Cubs’ Carlos Pena wiped out his left ankle in a slide at home plate (of which Doumit was blocking like a solar eclipse). Had Doumit remained inside of the baseline and not attempted to block Pena with his leg, he would have had an easy sweep tag and a healthy ankle.

The Oakland Athletics -- those damn nerdy book-types -- took note of what happened to the franchise backstop across the Bay in 2011 and made an edict from the top to keep their catchers out of harm’s way. Then-A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki said that Billy Beane told him specifically to give the runner the right-of-way to avoid contact at the plate.

Likewise, the New York Mets had this conversation broached in spring training when manager Terry Collins ordered catcher Travis d’Arnaud to avoid blocking the plate with his left leg because of the prior knee injuries. Mets GM Sandy Alderson – and chairman of the rules committee, by the way – responded to Collins’ request to his catcher shortly after, suggesting that the organization needs to look at their policy on the subject of plate-blocking.

“Whether that will be permanent with him or permanent with all of our catching prospects of something [Mets catcher] John Buck will adopt, or the spike tag will becomes standard for catchers in the big leagues- I don’t know,” Alderson told a group of Mets bloggers. “But I think it’s an issue we have to address globally, rather than just in the case of Travis d’Arnaud. And to some extent we have an obligation to treat everyone the same way.”

Then there are instances that make you question whether certain teams are going the extra mile to instill in their catchers to protect the plate at all costs; that they are the last line of defense between one more run. As mentioned above, Pittsburgh took time to instill plate-blocking techniques. While it could all be coincidental, Cleveland has had a recent string of catchers taking some beatings at home plate. In 2010, rookie catcher Carlos Santana had his knee ligaments rearranged while Boston’s Ryan Kalish bulled into his lower half that was straddling the baseline before the ball’s arrival. That was not even Santana’s first run-in at the dish that year. In his third game of his career, the White Sox’s Adam Dunn tried to separate him from his equipment for standing directly in front of home (and the throw was cut-off by the first baseman).

Meanwhile, this April, Indians catcher Lou Marson was blown up at the plate by the Rays’ Desmond Jennings after a bang-bang play when Jennings tried to score from third on an infield grounder to the third baseman. Marson was up the line and consuming the entire route home. Afterwards, Marson provided insight on his technique in that situation, which is to get the runner to hesitate before the collision. "I'm trying to block the plate and make you make a decision,” said the catcher. “Are you going to slide, or are you going to try to blow me up? I feel like that split second they have to decide kind of slows them down, at least a little bit."

Gomes, who is new to the Indians organization in 2013, may have been preparing to do something similar to what Marson described on the play. Block the plate and brace for contact. From Gomes’ perspective, there could have been a play at the plate forthcoming. It was not as if the ball was heading for a cut-off man. And it was not as if Ryan Doumit was running like a bat out of hell either. Plus there was the added caveat of the throw being outside the third base line while Gomes was set up inside the line. With a runner on base, Gomes may have been beginning to maneuver to corral the throw which was now heading behind the scampering Doumit.

Of course, superseding what was going on inside Gomes’ head is the fact that both MLB’s rules and baseball’s code – the unwritten rules of the game – both explicitly say that the catcher shouldn’t be anywhere near the base without the ball. Had Doumit been a different kind of individual, he may have leveled Gomes like Dunn did to Santana and would have been completely vindicated in the baseball world. Doumit didn’t and suffered a sprained ankle for his troubles. Even Gomes’ own manager, Terry Francona, would have likely condoned Doumit running into Gomes as a “baseball play”.

"If you don't want to have a collision, instruct your catcher to move. That's really easy, but you can't make a rule,” Francona said not long after his catcher Lou Marson was removed from his spikes. “The rule is the catcher can't block the plate until he has the ball. For the very most part, that's when you see guys get hit. They're the gritty guys, but they try to block the plate before they have the ball, and there's a bobble, or they get in late, and they can't brace themselves. That's where you see the problems.”

Will the Twins retaliate when the Indians come to town in a little over a week? The fireworks will be on display on July 4 but if Ron Gardenhire makes good on his promises, there may be a second show later this month.
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