With many apologies, I’m a couple days late with this transmission. Unfortunately for me, where we’ve been filming for the past few days (and for the remainder of our shooting schedule) we seem to be floating aimlessly in an internet abyss. Anyway, this is a fun story and so I’ll relate it to you now. (It may read as an ode to Japan, but really it’s a riff against the cowards of controversy at Angels Stadium (or maybe the coordinators of the WBC) who refused to show close calls on the big screen.)
Poor Japan. Their luck at third base couldn’t be any worse if their slot in the WBC semifinals depended upon it. After that odd overturn against Team USA on Sunday (that for all intents and purposes led to their unsavory loss in Game 1), Japan fell victim once again in their faceoff against rival Korea on Wednesday. From my most excellent seats above home plate this is how the second travesty went down:
(It was the top of the eighth inning with one Korean out and a man on first.) The Japanese center fielder had to chase down a well-hit Korean ground ball that had enough sting on it to power it the length of the playing field and send it karoming off the left-center wall. Knowing that such a hit could cause the fielder trouble and cost the Japanese some time, the Korean runner at first decided to press his luck and make a run for third.
The center fielder, however, fielded the ball cleanly and made a dead-on throw to third. The runner had no chance. Despite sliding into the bag with all the sound and furry he could muster, the ball beat him by a good step and a half. And this time, unlike the previous third base fiasco, the umpire was directly on top of the play as the Korean runner slid into the Japanese baseman, who had complete control of the bag.
What? Are you kidding me? How could the umpire miss another crucial call?! He was RIGHT there! The ball beat the runner by a mile.
The crowd erupted. The Korean fans went wild. The three Team Japan fans in my section (one beside me and two others a row back and about three seats over), however, all but leapt over the railing to throttle the umpire. The Japanese woman behind me started yelling furiously about conspiracies, cheaters and liars while her boyfriend accused the umpire of all sorts of sordid things that supposedly cause blindness. Meanwhile, the gentleman next to me could only moan and groan and had withered over the railing holding his head in his hands. Finally he looked to me and said weakly, "But the ball was there…"
Suddenly, inexplicably, I felt guilty.
Of course, there was no way to check the play for ourselves because the folks in control of in-field media apparently had a policy against replaying potentially controversial calls/plays for public scrutiny. (I suppose the discount umpires officiating this event were generating enough bad press of their own.) So, anyway, I craned my neck to try and sneak a peek at the ESPN coverage of the game being aired in the pressbox next door. Unlike the JumboTron at the stadium, the television station was showing replays. Unfortunately, the monitors were too small and at too weird an angle for us to see anything definitive.
The Japanese crowd was vehemently crushed; the Korean fans were exaulting in their good fortune. For Team Japan, the possibility of advancing to the Semis under these conditions seemed cruelly hopeless. The world, it seemed, was against them and third base had become the devil’s play thing.
As expected, this unfortunate turn of events brought the coaches for Team Japan out to work things over with the umpire. Meanwhile, we continued to try to glean anything we could from the pressbox. The woman behind us continued to be extremely p*ssed off, making the family in front of her more and more ill-at-ease. In a matter of seconds after the controversy kicked in, the man next to me got a phone call on his cell and immediately he began speaking rapid-fire Japanese into the receiver.
The excitement and suspense, however, was no match for my bladder so I took this break in play to scurry off to the ladies room while the heated debate continued on the field (as well as in the stands) and a Japanese replacement was brought in from the bullpen.
By the time I got back to my seat, things had cooled down considerably. The Korean runner remained safe at third (with the batsman having landed safely at second) and all the coaches had retired to their perspective dugouts. The latest Japanese relacement was just finishing up his warmups on the mound. The irate woman had settled back into her seat with a steely glare and my Japanese neighbor was still chattering into his phone.
Just as the Japanese reliever threw his first pitch into the dirt, the gentleman next to me hung up his phone. He took a deep breath and then confided to me that the call was from his friend in Japan who was watching the game on television there. Sadly, he said, the umpire made the correct call. It turns out that the third baseman had dropped the throw upon contact with the sliding Korean runner. His friend had seen it clearly on the replays shown by his local network.
Imagine that. Because the wussies at the Angels Stadium switchboard were too cowardly to show a questionable play on the JumboTron, the event we were watching live had to be transmitted via satellite to a television overseas whose viewer had then to watch the feed, pick up his cell phone and make a 2000-mile phone call back to the stadium in which the play had occurred to relay what had happened a mere 100 feet away from its viewers. Screwy, eh? (Hooray! for modern technology… and then Bah-Humbug.)
Sadly, three pitches later Korea would clear the bases with a line drive to center on a double that the batter would try to stretch into a triple. This time, however, in a nearly identical turn of events, the third baseman would hold onto the ball and the runner would be called out sliding into the bag, though with two RBIs now to his credit.
But even more unfortunate, maybe, is the fact that all the Japanese fans in attendance Wednesday night watched the remainder of that game against Korea feeling as though they had been robbed. That they had suffered another tragic injustice at the hands of a seemingly anti-Japan officiating staff. As they must have after their loss to Team USA on Sunday, I imagine the Japanese faithful left the stadium Wednesday night feeling helpless and wronged.
Had our little enclave not had the advantage of a Japanese connection, we too would have spent the last inning and a half believing we were watching the conclusion of a tainted game. And for the majority of the present viewers, this was yet another black cloud hanging over what should have been a well-fought competition.
Now, I know the argument against airing replays at the point of contention is that umpires are not allowed the help of off-the-field visual aids, ie. instant replay. But, going into the next inning it would have been nice to see the play in question up close and in slo-motion so that we, the fans, could come away from the incident with clarity. (Plus, as far as the errant umpires are concerned, it would have been a bolster for their waining popularity to prove that, at least in this case, the correct call was made.)
But, what’s done is done and these two teams will meet again tonight in the Semifinals. I can’t wait to see what third base has brewing for them this time around.