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Umps fix their Game 1 mistake

BOSTON -- Imagine, St. Louis fans, if umpires had bothered to consult with each other in 1985.

Plate umpire Jim Quick: Ummm, Don. I had a pretty good view of that play at first and I'm pretty sure Jorge Orta was out.

Denkinger: No, the play was right in front of me. I saw it clearly. He was safe. Just stick to calling balls and strike, Jim, OK?

Third-base umpire Jim McKean: No, Don. Jim is right. I had a good view from third base, too. He was out.

Left-field umpire Bob Engel: Yeah, by a mile.

Denkinger: Hey, I'm the crew chief! I make the decisions here!

Quick: Look, Don, none of us likes to admit a mistake, but I think your life will be much more pleasant if we agree to change the call. People will remember you for being a fine crew chief for years rather than forever associating your name with a blown call in the World Series. You won't get any threatening phone calls at 3 a.m. And you might even be able to eat in a St. Louis restaurant without someone spitting in your food.

Denkinger: Oh, all right, all right. I'll reverse the call. But I really don't think it's that big a deal. I mean, the Cardinals still lead 1-0 lead in this game and lead the Series 3-2. It's not like one close call will make the difference in who wins and loses the World Series. Or even so, that any reasonable Cardinals fan would hold me responsible if St. Louis goes on to lose this game and Game 7, too.

Unfortunately for St. Louis fans, that is not what happened in 1985. A terrible call was allowed to stand and the entire World Series turned around after that.

Fortunately for baseball, the reverse happened in Game 1 on Wednesday night when all the umpires got together to correct Dana DeMuth's incorrect call in the first inning.

Focused on the second-base bag, DeMuth wasn't able to see that St. Louis shortstop Pete Kozma did not catch Matt Carpenter's toss, so he called Dustin Pedroia out on a force play. A national TV audience could see from replays that DeMuth was clearly wrong, and fortunately for everyone but Kozma and the Cardinals, the rest of the umpire crew got together to correct the call.

"There's five of us out here, OK? And all five of us agreed 100 percent that it wasn't a catch," crew chief John Hirschbeck said to St, Louis manager Mike Matheny while miked for the Fox TV broadcast. "Our job is to get it right."

Hirschbeck was right. It was the correct and proper decision, even if it once again hurt the Cardinals in the World Series.

"That's not a play I've ever seen before," Matheny said. "And I'm pretty sure there were six umpires on the field that had never seen that play before, either. It's a pretty tough time to debut that overruled call in the World Series."

I completely understand where Matheny is coming from -- the entire game might have gone wildly different had the play not been overruled -- but a World Series game is a great time for such a call. It's refreshing that, for once, an umpire will not be made a scapegoat because of a mistake. That the blame is on the player who made an error, rather than the umpire.

"I thought that was one of the most professional, well-done jobs by a crew that I've ever seen," Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "Given all the circumstances, they got together and they got it right. Dana is a good umpire and he's looking at the bag, making sure Kozma is staying on the bag and it's hard to track all that. They came together as a group and made the right call.

"It was good for us but at the end of the day, as players that's all we're looking for. Whether it goes for you or against you, you're just looking for the right call."

DeMuth said it's "an awful feeling" when the crew is telling him his call was wrong, "especially when I'm sure that I had the right call. But I've got to be a team guy here and get the right call."

It may be an awful feeling at the moment but it's not nearly as awful a feeling as it will be for the rest of a career -- if not a life -- if an umpire is forever remembered for a terrible call. Which is another big reason for umpires to confer as they did. They can save themselves and their colleagues decades of grief with a short moment of conversation and input.

Baseball has been slow to adapt to improving technology and replay capabilities. But it finally is. Replay has been in use for several years on disputed home runs and next season it will be expanded to include many other types of plays. I'm not sure if the way the league is going about it is correct -- allowing managers multiple challenges will make games even longer -- but the key is to get calls right.

So in addition to more replay, I hope Wednesday's reversal begins a trend in which umpires get together more often to confer and get calls right. St. Louis fans might not be happy but they can't blame the umpires for Wednesday's loss -- just their team's awful fielding. Even St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright admitted it was the correct call while blaming himself for a poor performance. "I've never seen a call reversed like that with a huddle, but I think they probably got it right."

They did. And baseball is better for it.

Sigh. Now I just wish the umpires had helped out Richie Garcia on that Jeffrey Maier home run back in 1996.