'Duracell' advantage is decisive
NEW YORK - Some of the repercussions from the Roberto Alomar spitting incident were the fears that Alomar would be targeted by umpires with bad calls. One unidentified umpire in some stories called it the "Billy Martin rule," meaning the negative treatment the late New York Yankees manager got from umpires because of the abuse he gave them. But yesterday in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, it wasn't the "Billy Martin rule" that hurt Alomar and the Baltimore Orioles - it was the "Duracell rule." That unwritten rule is: If there is a close play in right field at Yankee Stadium, never, ever rule against the home team for fear of getting a concussion from a shower of batteries. In the bottom of the eighth, with one out and the Orioles leading 4-3, New York's Derek Jeter hit a high drive to right field that Baltimore outfielder Tony Tarasco took his time getting under on the warning track, standing up and waiting for the ball to come down. Then, just like that, it disappeared. "To me, it was a magic trick, because the ball just disappeared out of thin air," Tarasco said. "Merlin must have been in the house." Jeter's ball turned from an out - or a double, at the very most - into a home run that tied the game at 4-4, allowing the Yankees to hang on until Bernie Williams tagged a solo shot in the bottom of the 11th off reliever Randy Myers for a 5-4 win before a raucous crowd of 56,495. The magician in this case was a 12-year-old Yankees fan named Jeff Maier who reached out over the wall and made the catch of a lifetime, snaring the ball in his glove before it could reach Tarasco. It was clearly fan interfence. If it wasn't, then there is no reason for the rule to exist, unless fan interference applies only when a player is tackled on the field by a fan. And after yesterday, I'm not sure right field umpire Rich Garcia would even call that fan interference. "The way I saw it, I thought the ball was going out of the ballpark," Garcia said. "The ball was going out of the ballpark, and I called it a home run." That was an illusion. The reality, shown time and time again on replays, was that the ball was not a home run, that it would have at the very least hit the wall, and Tarasco certainly believed he was going to catch the ball. "To me it was a routine fly ball that just happened to be back on the [warning] track," Tarasco said. "It wasn't a line drive or blast out of the park. I had plenty of time to get over there. The kid just reached over and grabbed it. We almost touched gloves. It was very close to me." Garcia is one member of the umpiring corps that includes "the finest in the world," according to umpires association boss Richie Phillips in a news conference earlier in the day. There are six umpires for playoff games, as opposed to four during regular-season games, which makes this blown call all the more pitiful. "When you have umpires down the lines, you expect to get that call [right]," said Baltimore manager Davey Johnson, who was ejected by Garcia for arguing the call. "That's their sole responsibility, to get that call right." So how many umpires do they need to get it right? Nine, one for each player? Once Garcia realized he had been tricked by young Maier the Magnificent, after seeing a postgame replay, he essentially admitted he blew it. "Obviously, after looking at the replay, it was not a home run," Garcia said. "But from what I saw, the fan reached out, not down, which, in my judgment, did not interfere with the guy catching the ball." That is still extremely debatable. But even if that were the case, the worst that should have come out of it would have been a double for Jeter, which is what should have happened. "If I think the ball is going to hit the wall, I can call fan interference and we will award the base [to which] we think the batter would advance," Garcia said. But he didn't do that. When he was asked what he thought the crowd reaction would have been if he had called Jeter out, Garcia said jokingly, "Do I have to answer that?" No. You already did.