The Royals beat the Yankees 5-4 Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium and a long fly ball off the bat of Billy Butler in the third inning turned out to be the difference.
About that, there is no dispute.
About just about everything else, there is no agreement.
Was Butler’s ball, which caromed off a pad at the top of the left-center field wall and bounced back onto the field, really a home run?
The umpires said it was the moment the ball landed on the warning track, and again after retiring to their inner sanctum to watch the replay.
Should Joe Girardi, who vociferously believed the ball was not a home run, have protested?
After the game, he said yes. But at the time of the argument, the Yankees manager chose to defer to crew chief Dana DeMuth, the second base umpire who made the original call.
“I probably should have [protested],’’ Girardi said. “But I figured Dana knew the rule.’’
But the real question is, did the Yankees know the rule?
This is where it gets sticky. According to Girardi, his first base coach, Mick Kelleher, went over the ground rules with the umpires before the first game of the series Monday night and, according to Kelleher, specifically asked about a ball hitting the top of the wall, which is backed by a chain-link fence that protrudes 8-to-10 inches above the top of the padded wall.
“We were under the understanding that it had to go over both fences,’’ Girardi said. “[DeMuth] said no, they cleared that up the first day of the ground rules, it only had to go over the first fence.’’
Kelleher, recounting his conversation with the umpires, said, “They said, ‘It’s clear and open. Above that is a padded rail, so it has to clear the padded rail.’ It doesn’t make sense to me. The ball never left the ballpark, so how could it be a home run?”
The angriest Yankee of them all was Mariano Rivera, who was watching on television in the clubhouse but raced out to tell Girardi that the ball should not have been ruled a home run.
“What I saw wasn’t what they saw,’’ Rivera said. “To me, matter of fact, the ball never hit the back wall. I mean, that cost us the game. Tie game, you know? I understand we’re all human, but come on. You have replays, and get the call wrong? That’s unacceptable.’’
There was no clarification coming from the umpires. DeMuth refused to speak with a pool reporter seeking comment.
“That’s interesting,’’ Kelleher said.
Television replays seemed to show the ball landing on the wide green pad atop the wall and caroming back against the chain-link fence before returning to the field.
Even Girardi agreed with the umpires’ perception of where the ball landed. What was open to question was the interpretation of the rule.
“I didn’t think it was a home run,’’ Girardi said. “If I’m correct and it’s a double, then it shows a flaw in not knowing the rules. It’s huge, especially if he’s incorrect, because it’s 4-4 and we’re still playing and the pressure changes. It would be a shame to lose a game like that.’’
It was the second home run allowed in the inning by Bartolo Colon, who had his worst outing in more than a month, surrendering five earned runs in five innings. The Yankees had ample opportunities to make up the difference, especially in the ninth inning when they loaded the bases with one out. But they could only manage to sneak one run across, on Robinson Cano’s sacrifice fly, and the game ended when Jorge Posada looked at a third strike with runners on second and third.
“It ended up being a one-run game, and things might have gone differently but it’s hard to say how big that was or how big that wasn’t," said Brett Gardner, who had a pretty good look at the play from left field. “It’s part of the game and we came up short. We fell behind early and we just didn’t win tonight. We been playing some pretty good baseball and you can’t win all of them.’’
Gardner followed that bit of honesty with probably the most significant observation of the night: “I don’t understand why that little piece of fence is there. It probably can lead to a lot of controversy over the years.’’