Orioles' Nate McLouth watches a long fly ball just go foul… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
NEW YORK — It wasn’t as crucial as the missed call that defined both the 1996 American League Championship Series and the uneven relationship between the mighty New York Yankees and the Orioles.
It certainly wasn’t as clear cut.
Nevertheless, a 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees in Friday’s Game 5 of the AL Division Series that ended the Orioles’ wild ride of a season included another controversial call in right field at Yankee Stadium (though it is a new building).
With two outs in the top of the sixth inning and the Orioles trailing the Yankees and their ace CC Sabathia 1-0, Nate McLouth hit a towering fly ball down the right field line.
On first glance, it looked as if the ball just pulled to the right of the foul pole. That’s what right field umpire Fieldin Culbreth ruled and what McLouth assumed as he ran up the line.
“When I was watching it kind of running down the line there, honestly, I thought it was foul,” McLouth said. “I couldn’t tell if it hit the pole or not. [The umpires] watched the replay and they didn’t think so.”
As soon as the foul call was made, the Orioles erupted, with first baseman Mark Reynolds, who was standing at the corner of the dugout, leaping in the air.
“I thought it went right over the pole. It's a tough call,” Reynolds said. “The replay, you really couldn't tell much on it. I thought it was out, I thought it was fair from my angle. I was sitting right by the pole and had a perfect shot of it. But that's the way it goes.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter argued the call, the umpires convened and then used the video replay option to review it.
They came back to the field moments later, confirming their original decision.
“I saw it go to the right of the pole. There is netting there and it didn’t touch the netting,” Culbreth said to a pool reporter. “It did not change direction.”
Said crew chief Brian Gorman: “We saw the same thing on the replay. There was no evidence to overturn the decision.”
However, at least one slow-motion replay angle from TBS seemed to show the ball pinging the pole and caroming slightly, which would have resulted in a homer and a tied game. And TBS field reporter Craig Sager said he talked to a Yankee Stadium usher who said he, indeed, saw the ball hit the pole and change direction.
“Someone said that it nicked the pole, but that didn’t beat us,” Showalter said. “And I appreciate them using the system in place to get it right.”
The fair-foul debate broke along partisan lines in sections 207 and 208, located right behind the pole.
“It was absolutely foul,” said Yankees fan Allison Lauria, who lives in the East Village. “I definitely saw the ball on the foul side, and it didn't look like it changed direction at all.”
“I saw the replay that made it look like it changed direction,” said Michael DeLuca of Bayside, N.Y. “But I was looking at it straight on, and it didn't look that way at all. It was foul all the way.”
Marcus Warner, an Orioles fan from Baltimore, not surprisingly saw the opposite.
“I was standing right here, and it hit the pole,” he said pointing at the yellow structure looming before him. “The ball changed direction. This is unbelievable, 1996 all over again. That definitely changed the emotion of the game.”
In Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter hit a fly ball that right fielder Tony Tarasco appeared to be camped under. But 12-year-old Yankees fan Jeffrey Maier leaned over the wall and redirected the ball into the stands in an attempt to catch it. Right field umpire Rich Garcia missed the call, and the homer stood, tying the game. The Yankees won in extra innings and eventually captured the ALCS and the World Series that year, igniting their dynasty of the late 1990s.
Baltimore fans have never forgotten that play. And though this one certainly doesn’t measure up in importance — the Orioles lost by two runs — it still was a significant moment in the game. McLouth struck out on the next pitch, and the Orioles continued to flail unsuccessfully against Sabathia, who threw a complete-game four-hitter.
“I really do think it was a big momentum changer. They had just scored the half inning before and that would have tied it,” McLouth said. “But in the end, our downfall was we just weren’t able to get the big hit this series like we had so often.”