Now-former Washington Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker and Matt Wieters had it right after all, at least according to MLB’s Joe Torre. In the top of the fifth inning of Game 5 of the NLDS with the Chicago Cubs, Max Scherzer got a swinging strike three from Javy Baez on an 0-2 pitch that got by Nats’ catcher Matt Wieters, but as it rolled behind the plate, Baez’s follow-through caught Wieters on the mask.
Wieters collected the ball and tried for the out at first, but threw wildly into right field. It should have been a dead ball.
It should have remained a 5-4 lead in the Nationals’ favor.
Who knows how things would have worked out in the end.
Two more runs scored in the inning instead, and though the Nats rallied late, they fell 9-8 and lost their fourth division series in the last six seasons.
“I thought the rule was a dead ball and they said it's not a dead ball,” Baker said after the loss. “Only on a stolen base; that's what I was told.”
Wieters said the crew chief, Jerry Layne, told him the same.
“He told me that it only affects if a runner is stealing and since there wasn’t a runner stealing that it doesn’t affect on that play.”
MLB’s Rule book makes it fairly clear, of course:
“If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.”
“You probably have read the rule — that when contact is made — in other words, when the bat came around and hit the catcher’s mask — it’s a dead ball,” Torre told SiriusXM host Chris Russo this week, as quoted by Washington Post writer Scott Allen.
“It’s a dead ball. And that’s the one thing that should have taken precedence.”
Torre went on to say that Baker could have asked for a rule check and sent things to New York for an official ruling. He did not.
“I still missed the block and I still should have made the block,” Wieters told reporters after the Nationals’ Game 5 loss.
“But I know when a guy is running that it’s a dead ball,” he added, “... and I was thinking the rule might be the same thing after a swing to be able to be a dead ball and get an out that way. It’s still a ball that I should have blocked and I missed.”
Wieters took the loss, in which he went 2 for 4, and was charged with two errors and the passed ball, pretty hard.
“It was a bad time to have one of my worst defensive nights of my career, but we still had a shot all the way to the end,” he said.
“It will be a little while to get over some of the [plays] that I normally make that I didn’t make tonight.”
Wieters finished the postseason 2 for 14 with both of his hits in the series finale.
He finished his first season in D.C. with a .225/.288/.344 line, 20 doubles, and 10 home runs in 123 games and 465 plate appearances, over which he was worth a career-low -0.2 fWAR.
Defensively, the 31-year-old backstop posted a .993 fld%, five passed balls (two more than he allowed in the previous three seasons combined), threw out 19 of 76 base stealers (25% CS%), and committed eight errors, one fielding and seven throwing.
He has a player option for $10.5M unless he opts for free agency and looks for a better deal, which would have made sense if he’d put together a big season. Since he didn’t is it safe to assume he’ll take the $10.5M and return to D.C. in 2018?
If he does, he’ll lead a staff that seemed to like working with him.
“He's a true professional,” Stephen Strasburg told reporters before working with the catcher in Game 1 of the NLDS.
“He's not just going out there and just calling a generic game and focusing on his ABs.
“He really does his homework and he really kind of tries to figure out what your strengths are on any given start and really using those strengths; but at the same time, featuring stuff that might not be working and getting it going as fast as possible.”
“You can just tell that he's always back there and he's thinking before he puts the sign down,” Tanner Roark said before Game 4.
“You know, he looks up at the hitter and sees what he thinks that he wants to hit, and he changes it to the other sign. That's obviously a positive.”
“He's been great with this rotation and our bullpen,” Gio Gonzalez said.
“He's a big strike zone; he's hard to miss. He has a good game plan every time he goes out there.”
“Wieters has been a huge help to my success this year. I do not take anything away from what he's done and how great he's been. Again, I'm not the only one that's had great success. Our entire rotation and even guys in the bullpen, dealing with him and getting to pitch to him, it's been incredible.
“It's fun and we're just happy to have him back there. He's a big strike zone, like I said and a big strike zone with a guy that knows how to call a game, that's a deadly combination.”
“Wieters has been such a great catcher for me this year,” Max Scherzer said before he started in Game 3.
“We really have a good rapport with each other of how we handle the reports, hitters, everything. He has a great feel for calling a game. We've really meshed well together.”
Sounds like the Nationals’ starters wouldn’t mind having him back. Will the Nationals give him the No. 1 catcher’s job though? Will they try to upgrade the position with a trade or free agent signing?
Will the Nats turn to one of the prospects in the organization like Pedro Severino on a full or part-time basis?