ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — All these years later, a blown call by a first base umpire actually helped the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
While it remains to be seen whether Ron Kulpa will be as vilified by Texas Rangers fans as Don Denkinger is by Cardinals fans, there’s no doubt this mistake was as bad or worse perhaps enough to revive talk of expanding video replay in baseball.
In the top of the fourth inning Saturday night, St. Louis was leading only 1-0 when Matt Holliday hit a grounder to shortstop Elvis Andrus that normally would start a double play. Andrus got the force out at second base with a throw to Ian Kinsler, but Kinsler’s throw pulled first baseman Mike Napoli off the bag and into Holliday’s path. Napoli caught the ball and slapped a tag across Holliday’s left shoulder a step before he reached first base.
Kulpa was in decent position to make the correct call but didn’t. The Cardinals took advantage, scoring four runs that inning on their way to a 16-7 victory and a 2-1 lead in the series.
Kulpa acknowledged he blew it. He told a pool reporter the same thing he told Napoli at the time: he thought Holliday already had stepped on the bag when the tag was made.
“I saw a replay when I walked off the field and the tag was applied before his foot hit the bag,” Kulpa said. “I called what I saw.”
Crew chief Jerry Layne defended Kulpa, noting that the wide throw made it “a very tough call.” He also cut off questions to Kulpa before he could be asked about the Denkinger comparison, a subject he certainly knows well.
Kulpa is a St. Louis native and lifelong Cardinals fan who was 17 when Denkinger made the mistake that triggered a collapse by the Cardinals that cost them the 1985 World Series to the neighboring Kansas City Royals. Asked about his St. Louis ties, Kulpa said, “It has nothing to do with it.”
Kulpa is in his 13th year in the majors and this is his first World Series. He was picked before it was known the team he grew up dreaming of playing for would be involved.
While conspiracy theories are sure to abound, it’s important to note that Kulpa made the correct call on perhaps the most difficult play yet of the World Series, a steal of second base by Kinsler in the ninth inning of Game 2, with St. Louis trying to protect a 1-0 lead. Kulpa called him safe and Kinsler went on to score the tying run and Texas went on to win 2-1.
If there’s any backlash against Kulpa, it probably won’t be traced to the Texas clubhouse certainly not Napoli, Kinsler or Rangers manager Ron Washington, who briefly argued the play at the time.
“I knew he missed the play when I went out there,” Washington said. “We still had an opportunity to get off that field with maybe them just pushing one run across the plate. We just didn’t make the plays. I mean, I don’t think you can just start all of a sudden making excuses about things. We had a chance to get off the field with them scoring one run in that inning right there, and we just threw the ball around.”
Napoli repeatedly emphasized that the Rangers “had a chance to minimize that inning and we didn’t really do that.” He said he didn’t know the Denkinger story and, when told about it, dismissed any similarity with Kulpa’s gaffe.
“He’s human,” Napoli said. “People make mistakes. He’s trying his best out there and we’re trying our best. You’ve got to just move on from things like that.”
Kinsler wondered why he was even being asked about that play, noting that Texas lost by nine runs. Reminded that it was 1-0 at the time, he still said, “That’s not the turning point.”
“You can go through a lot of things in this game, a lot of ups and downs and different things that happened,” Kinsler said.
While absolving Kulpa, Kinsler also said, “The game’s not played in slow motion, so it’s pretty difficult to make that call.” That brings up the seemingly annual question about why officials can’t use replay to make certain calls in games as important as this are always correct. It’s already been added to determine whether balls clear the fence for a home run.
This wasn’t the first missed call this series, either. In the ninth inning of the opener, which Texas lost 3-2, Adrian Beltre fouled a ball off his foot but umpires called it a fair ball, keeping him from getting at least one more swing.
Also in the opener, Kulpa missed a call at third base, ruling a ball was caught in the air when it actually bounced. That mistake did not lead to any runs.
Kulpa’s every move the rest of this series is certain to be scrutinized especially Sunday, when he’s scheduled to be behind the plate.
Denkinger was behind the plate, too, the night after his crucial mistake in the ’85 World Series.
The play that made Denkinger infamous came in the ninth inning of Game 6, with the Cardinals up 1-0 and leading the series 3-2. Leadoff hitter Jorge Orta hit a grounder to first baseman Jack Clark, and he tossed it to pitcher Todd Worrell covering first base. Replays show that Worrell beat Orta to the bag, but Denkinger insisted he was safe.
The Royals went on to win that game 2-1, then won the decisive seventh game 11-0, with St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog and pitcher Joaquin Andujar getting ejected by Denkinger in the fifth inning.
Until this series, Kulpa who happens to have a Herzog-esque brush cut was probably best known for being head-butted by Carl Everett in 2000. He’s worked an All-Star game and was behind the plate for Justin Verlander’s first career no-hitter, in 2007.
Copyright Associated Press