Manager Scott Servais was adamant that the umpires got it wrong on Wednesday night. A look at the play in question and the controversial rule surrounding it.

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DENVER — It didn’t make a difference in the final results and it didn’t cost the Mariners a victory. Seattle scored three runs in the ninth inning to render the possibility of a comeback to unlikely.

But the controversial play involving Ben Gamel’s headfirst slide into home that was initially ruled safe and then overturned by replay and then deemed to not be in violation of Rule 6.01 (i) of the official Major League Baseball rules after another replay left manager Scott Servais very upset and offering up some colorful language to home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott  and crew chief Paul Emmel. It’s also important in understanding the interpretation of the rule going forward for the Mariners for similar plays.

After the game, Servais was steadfast in his belief that Rockies catcher Ryan Hanigan had violated the rule by blocking the plate with his left leg before catching the ball and not offering Gamel a clear path to slide into.  Here’s what he said:

“The catcher is not allowed to block the plate if they don’t have the ball. And clearly in my opinion, he did not have the ball as he stuck his leg out and deflected Gamel’s arm away from the plate. In my mind, it was a no-brainer that he did not give him a lane to run in. After they change a call, often times, they don’t give you an explanation. It’s just what it is. I tried to talk to the umpire after the game and he really didn’t have a clear explanation on it either. The call was made in New York. That one shocked me.

That was why the rule was designed. Otherwise Ben Gamel should plow into the catcher and light him up. But the rule was put in place so that didn’t happen. We need to get some clarification on that.”

The same umpiring crew is working the two game series at Safeco Field so Servais hopes to at least discuss it with them.

Here’s the convoluted sounding official rule as it pertains to the play.

Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.

Not withstanding the above, Rule 6.01(i) to 6.01(j) 70 it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(2) (Rule 7.13(2)) if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in a legitimate attempt to field the throw (e.g., in reaction to the direction, trajectory or the hop of the incoming throw, or in reaction to a throw that originates from a pitcher or drawn-in infielder).

In addition, a catcher without possession of the ball shall not be adjudged to violate this Rule 6.01(i)(2) (Rule 7.13(2)) if the runner could have avoided the collision with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) by sliding.

Rule 6.01(i)(2) Comment (Rule 7.13(2) Comment): A catcher shall not be deemed to have violated Rule 6.01(i)(2) (Rule 7.13(2)) unless he has both blocked the plate without possession the ball (or when not in a legitimate attempt to field the throw), and also hindered or impeded the progress of the runner attempting to score. A catcher shall not be deemed to have hindered or impeded the progress of the runner if, in the judgment of the umpire, the runner would have been called out notwithstanding the catcher having blocked the plate. In addition, a catcher should use best efforts to avoid unnecessary and forcible contact while tagging a runner attempting to slide. Catchers who routinely make unnecessary and forcible contact with a runner attempting to slide (e.g., by initiating contact using a knee, shin guard, elbow or forearm) may be subject to discipline by the League President.

Here’s some screengrabs to decide for yourself:

Before the throw …

Throw coming (leg getting out there) … is there a lane?

Hanigan trying to catch the ball (notice the leg)

Hanigan with the ball

Another angle … where Hanigan doesn’t have the ball. Is there a lane?

And another …

And finally

Obviously the umpires don’t have the use of screen grabs, but they do have slow motion. Even in real time, many thought it was a violation of the home plate collision rule by Hanigan. The umps best argument for saying the slide rule hasn’t been violated would be that the process of catching the ball carried Hanigan into the area of the plate and that the leg came out after he caught the ball. It seems a little flimsy. But we won’t really know what the replay umpires deemed in New York since they don’t have to answer such questions.