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Positive obstruction

A controversial call on almost-Giant Gary Sánchez swung the game.

Blake Sabol falling over after being tagged by Gary Sánchez Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

When the bottom of the fifth inning rolled around at Oracle Park on Wednesday night, the San Francisco Giants found themselves in an unfamiliar position: a tied game. During the Giants current winning streak — which, after beating the San Diego Padres 4-2 is now at 10 games for the first time in 19 years — they’ve made a habit of falling behind, and finding a way to mount a comeback.

They hadn’t done that on Wednesday. They’d briefly considered it, having allowed the Padres leadoff runner to reach base in all five innings to that point, but then they’d thought better. It was a scoreless affair as we flipped to the second half of the game.

The Giants offense had been quiet to this point, but they decided it was finally time to pounce. Or at least, you know ... open a bag of chips, or something.

As has been the case so often lately, it was the Giants young players who kickstarted things. With Ryan Walker and Sean Hjelle having preserved a pristine scoreboard, the batters went to work in the fifth. Luis Matos led off with a single and stole second. Blake Sabol singled to put runners at the corners. David Villar walked, and suddenly the bases were loaded with no outs.

In a spot where, earlier in the season we would have been prepared for an unproductive out, we now all expected an RBI, and Brandon Crawford delivered with a sacrifice fly, putting the Giants up 1-0.

Despite winning the first two games of the series, the Giants would play baseball with a lead for the first time all series.

But while Crawford had smoothly delivered a productive out, his protege in the wings could not do the same, as Casey Schmitt went down swinging. The Giants were in danger of only squeaking one run out of a three-on, none-out situation.

The fate rested in the hands of Joc Pederson, or so we thought. He muscled a ball into the outfield and Sabol, racing around third with eyes wide as dinner plates, was met by the man the Giants signed a few months ago to provide insurance in case Sabol wasn’t actually good: Gary Sánchez. A missile from Fernando Tatis Jr. led Sánchez up the line, where he easily tagged out Sabol.

It was just the third out that the Giants have made at home plate all year, lowest in the league (three teams have at least 10!). One run would have to suffice. We went to a commercial break.

Let’s forget about the Giants game for a moment. Let’s think about other things. Let’s think about, for instance, former Giants greats. I select Bruce Bochy, just to name a random one.

Let’s see what good ol’ Boch was up to the night prior:

Anyway, back to the Giants game. The commercial break came back and ... the inning was still going on. The Giants had challenged the play. The umpires were spending an entirely too long amount of time conversing with their coworkers in New York, and when they finally made an announcement, it was deemed that Sánchez had obstructed home plate. Not only would the out not count, but the run would score, and the inning would continue.

You can probably guess what happened with Bob Melvin. I sure did.

Let’s watch the obstruction, bearing in mind a few things.

  1. Sánchez definitely went against what the rules allow.
  2. The ball got there so far before Sabol, and Sánchez was so clearly set, that it felt stupid to have the rule be a thing because ... come on, we have eyes, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with this. But then again,
  3. Sánchez definitely went against what the rules allow. But then again again,
  4. Our old friend Grant Brisbee noted on Twitter that there’s a funny addition to the rules, that states that the runner can still be called out if they’re very far away from home, which Sabol most certainly was. Sabol deserved to be out. But then again again again,
  5. Sánchez was quite egregious in going against what the rules allow. He doesn’t deserve to get the out. And furthermore,
  6. Because Tatis’ throw was quite a bit up the line, you could make the case — as I’m guessing the umpires did — that had Sánchez positioned himself in front of the third base line instead of straddling it like a horse, he might not have had time to make a swipe tag and get Sabol. And...
  7. Might is a pretty important word. Sánchez doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt for breaking a rule if he might have been able to do the same thing without breaking the rule. He probably should have just not broken the rule, but then again, Sabol probably should have been held at third.

Anyway, watch for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

After watching it about 109 times, my conclusion is that neither player deserved to have a good outcome, and that they should have had a good old fashioned do-over.

More seriously, it feels pretty stupid, but at the same time, the purpose of the rule is safety. The reason catchers can’t block the basepath isn’t because it’s an unfair advantage, it’s because you don’t want a player running full speed into a player that is stationary. Sabol had to swerve out of his lane to avoid colliding with a 230-pound man covered in armor, and that’s ultimately why the rule is in place. It’s hard to watch that play and feel like it’s the correct call, but if that’s the cost of improving safety and the Giants benefit from it, so be it.

After the game, there was a surprisingly refreshing take from both dugouts, with the Giants admitting that they benefitted from a stupid rule, and the Padres acknowledging that maybe they should follow the rules even when they’re stupid. Oh wait, sorry, that actually did not happen at all.

After a long delay, Yu Darvish had to return to the mound. Eight pitches later, Mike Yastrzemski and J.D. Davis had RBI knocks, and the Giants had a small ball rally for the ages: five singles, one walk, one stolen base, one productive out, one catcher’s obstruction, and four runs.

The Giants had four runs where they arguably should have had one. They had no runs in the four innings that preceded, and they would score no runs in the four innings that followed.

It was just those four runs. That one run, that obstruction, and those three more runs.

You can probably guess what would happen next. The Giants bend-don’t-break pitching and defense would cede the exact number of runs that San Diego would need to eke out a win had the obstruction not been called. Luke Jackson and Tyler Rogers each gave up a run that were devastating in an alternate universe, but just a little hole in the window dressing in the actual universe. The Giants, aided by positive obstruction, would win 4-2.

It was weird: the Giants gave up leadoff runners in seven different innings, but only allowed one of them to score. They turned four double plays.

It was encouraging: Hjelle made his first MLB appearance since May 1 and was dynamic, pitching four scoreless innings with five strikeouts to set the table for the offense, even if Sabol catching meant we were robbed of our first PB and Hjelle experience.

It was costly: Yastrzemski left the game after aggravating the hamstring that has already landed him on the Injured List once this year.

But more than anything else, it was a win. A weird, silly, stupid, controversial, nonsense win for the tenth time in a row, something that they’ve only done seven times since moving to San Francisco.

Baseball. Glorious, idiotic, inexplicable baseball.