Purgatory Online

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

So Darin Erstad rang Johnny Estrada's bell pretty hard at the plate last night, pretty much decking him with a lowered shoulder to knock the ball loose from the Atlanta catcher and score the go-ahead run in the top of the 8th. Most of the folks reading this have probably seen the highlights, so I'll spare the full description, which can be found at the link.

My brief take: clean play, no question. Eddie Perez can pop his bill all he likes, collisions at the plate are a part of baseball, and are governed by some fairly simple unwritten rules. If the catcher is blocking the plate, the baserunner can run him over. Erstad had no obligation to seek out some gentler way to score, such as sliding around Estrada - it looked to me that he might have had a chance to score that way, but it certainly wasn't his best bet, and he wasn't obligated to try.

And now, a suvey of other thoughts.

Rob says:
...reviewing the video of the situation, it was clear that, in order to score, Erstad had to get the ball out of Estrada's hands, and the easiest way to do that was to just hit his glove shoulder as hard as possible. The Angels won, but it wasn't a moment to be proud of, and especially if Estrada ends up on the DL. Regardless of whether it means the Braves will have to hit without an ersatz cleanup man in the lineup (Estrada batted fourth today), Erstad's actions to me seemed excessive.
...which I don't understand. If Erstad had to get the ball out of Estrada's hands to score, how is doing so excessive? There's a reason you're not just called out automatically if the catcher has the ball and is between you and home, and that reason is that, as a runner, you have a right to the baseline. The catcher has the right to try to block the plate (by custom, incidentally, not by rule - technically it's illegal), but it's up to the runner to decide whether to attempt to slide around or go right through him. Erstad made a legal play that Estrada, a professional baseball player, knew was a strong possibility when he decided to block the plate instead of trying for the sweep tag.

Richard and Josh are both more or less in agreement with me, though Josh seems to have some odd ideas about the mechanics of sliding. They link to an article at Catbird in the Nosebleed Seats that treats any comparison between this collision and the infamous Pete Rose - Ray Fosse collision during the 1970 All-Star Game with the derision it richly deserves.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the single best one-liner I've seen on the matter, in the form of a photo caption: "Stuffed by an Angel." Unsurprisingly, their online poll shows AJC readers believing the play to be dirty by a two-to-one margin.

I should also note that I was watching the Braves' feed of the game last night, and Skip Caray and Don Sutton were both of the opinion that the play was clean, and that Darin Erstad "is not a dirty player." Caray and Sutton were actually pretty lavish with their praise for the Angels throughout the game.

The Braves' message boards are predictably retarded on the issue, and I am stupider for having spent two minutes reading them. Apparently, Estrada was rescuing kittens trapped somewhere in the vicinity of the pitcher's mound when Erstad left the baseline and beat him to death with a fungo bat.

Now, unfortunately, we'll have to endure speculation for the next couple of days about possible retaliation. Bobby Cox is a crotchety old cuss, and Ersty may take one in the ribs at some point, but I kind of doubt it - given a day or so to think about it and watch the replay, I suspect most of the Braves will at least privately conclude that the play was clean. If someone does toss in a little love tap, though, that should be the end of it. Having spent eighteen years in Atlanta, I can tell you that the Braves fans will caw and shake their fists in righteous triumph, and never even notice who wins the game.