HOUSTON — Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez was ejected from a 7-2 Game 6 victory in the World Series after a controversial runner interference call in the top of the seventh inning Tuesday night.
With the Nationals leading the Houston Astros 3-2 and a runner on first base with none out, Trea Turner hit a little dribbler in front of pitcher Brad Peacock. Peacock’s throw to first base hit Turner as first baseman Yuli Gurriel stretched for the ball and Turner made his final step for first base.
The ball rolled away from Gurriel, and Yan Gomes reached third base while Turner went to second, but plate umpire Sam Holbrook called Turner out for runner interference.
Even though first base is in fair territory, the runner is required to run in the lane in foul territory. Turner was just inside the foul line — although the rule raises the question of where exactly Turner is supposed to run on his final step to the bag.
“For me, I mean, what else do you do?” Turner said. “I don’t know. The batter’s box is in fair territory. First base is in fair territory. I swung, I ran in a straight line, I got hit with the ball and I’m out. I don’t understand it.”
Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, said in his postgame news conference that the umpires got the call right and that the play was a judgment call and therefore not reviewable or protestable.
Torre said Turner was called out because he interfered with Gurriel trying to catch the ball by running into Gurriel’s glove. He went on to say that had Turner run in the proper lane outside the foul line, he could have avoided hitting Gurriel’s glove. Torre did not say what would have happened had Turner run in the proper lane and still hit Gurriel’s glove.
“It’s a judgment call on the umpire,” Torre said. “Sam Holbrook made the call. It was the right call. Of course, then you watch Davey Martinez, and I can relate to that. When you wear a uniform, you know what you want to have happen, basically.”
Rule 5.09(a)(11) reads, in part, “The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base.”
It further reads, “In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball.”
According to Torre, although the play was not reviewable, managers have been told in the case of judgment calls that they can ask the umpires to check on their interpretation of the rules, which is what they did. After a long replay delay of 4 minutes, 32 seconds, the call was upheld.
Instead of runners at second and third with none out, the Nationals had a runner on first base and one out, a huge difference in run-scoring probability. Will Harris then replaced Peacock, and two batters later, Anthony Rendon hit a two-run home run into the Crawford Boxes in left to give the Nationals a 5-2 lead.
“I didn’t think he was out of the line,” Rendon said, adding he was happy to take a seat and rest during the delay.
When the inning concluded, Martinez renewed his objections and was ejected from the game. It took two Nationals coaches to restrain Martinez as he forcefully argued with the umpires. Turner was also seen voicing his displeasure from the dugout during the review.
“I feel like every year [this happens],” Turner said. “That happened to us against the Cubs [in the 2017 National League Division Series]. They came back and said that they got the rule wrong or something else should have happened.
“I said, ‘There is your man over there, he’s in charge of the umpires,'” Turner said, referring to Torre. “‘So if you want to get this cleared up, you should go to him.’ I don’t know all the protocol and whatnot, but I just want the game to be called correctly, whatever it is. Move on.”
In the 2017 postseason call Turner was referring to, a controversial interpretation of the rule regarding catcher’s interference contributed to a Chicago rally in the decisive game of the series.
Martinez is the first manager to be ejected from a World Series game since Bobby Cox in 1996.
“I don’t want to sit here and talk about me or the umpires,” Martinez said. “This is not about me or the umpires. This is about the Washington Nationals and those guys in the clubhouse coming to Game 6 and playing lights out, knowing that this could be it. And I’m super proud of them.
“In the heat of the moment things get blown out of hand. I saw things differently. I’m never going to criticize any umpires or anything, because they’re a big part of the game.”
Holbrook was also involved in a controversial call in the playoffs related to a rules interpretation in 2012. In the NL wild-card game between the Cardinals and Braves, Holbrook invoked the infield fly rule on a ball that dropped in left field, spurring the Braves to file a protest after a 19-minute on-field delay. Torre later denied the protest.
Torre acknowledged he did not like how long Tuesday’s delay dragged on, saying, “It shouldn’t have been that long.”
In the end, the controversial call had minimal impact on the game’s outcome, thanks to Rendon’s homer and the standout pitching performance from Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg.
Game 7 will be played Wednesday night.
Dave Martinez is focused on the Nationals forcing Game 7, not the controversy in the seventh inning, and looks ahead to Max Scherzer taking the mound. He also addresses Alex Bregman carrying his bat to first.
ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle and The Associated Press contributed to this report.