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Mike Lopresti: Gannett National Sports Writer

COLUMN

Originally published: October 20, 2009

Yankees overwhelm Angels, take 3-1 lead in ALCS

By MIKE LOPRESTI, Gannett

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Never mind that Scott Kazmir pitched for the Los Angeles Angels like he was trying to walk through a minefield in snowshoes, needing 84 pitches for the first four innings.

Never mind that the Angels were in serious trouble Tuesday about the time the game became official - meaning Alex Rodriguez hit his nightly home run.

Never mind the freeway series is looking pretty dead these days - unless by "freeway" you mean the Schuylkill and Cross-Bronx expressways.

Never mind the Angels pitching fell apart like a sandcastle at high tide.

Never mind that Internet conspiracy buffs have tapes of Mariano Rivera supposedly spitting on the baseball, and this during a flu epidemic.

No, for trials and tribulation and anguish and woe, there was only one place to go in the fourth game of the American League Championship Series.

The poor umpires. The men who need some friends today, not to mention possibly a replay booth.

Game 4 was an umpiring Titanic. A tour de oops.

Come with us to the Yankees fourth inning. Notice that Nick Swisher is on second base.

Kazmir whirls around and fires to second to pick him off.

Safe, says umpire Dale Scott.

Out, say the replays.

But wait.

A moment later, Swisher is at third base. Johnny Damon flies to center. Swisher tags and scores. But the Angels toss the ball to third for an appeal, hoping Swisher left the bag too early. Just like they do in Little League.

Out, says umpire Tim McClelland.

Safe, suggest the replays.

So to review, Swisher should have been out when he was safe and should have been safe when he was out.

But at least, that means everything is even in the end. The game can move on.

Yankees fifth inning. Jorge Posada on third, Robinson Cano on second. Swisher hits a roller in front of the plate.

Posada gets in a rundown and goes back to third. Catcher Mike Napoli chases him and finds a population explosion of Yankees. Posada is there, Cano is there. Two Yanks, one bag.

Except, neither is actually on the bag. So Napoli tags both. It's a double play, apparently, with both outs within about three feet of one another.

Safe, McClelland says, as far as Cano. He gets to stay at third, a base he had yet to touch. Third base has become an umpiring Bermuda Triangle.

Even the rally monkey looked ticked off.

None of the mishaps had any effect on the game, other than to highly annoy the Angels, who have enough problems anyway. They're now down 3-1 to the Yankees, after being pounded 10-1.

But the mistakes will be added to the litany of other mishaps this month that have plagued the umpires from home to first to third to the left field line. Their struggles have gone around the horn.

For the men in blue, it has been a black October. No wonder some of them wear masks.

The drumbeat for more use of replay is about to get louder, even as the games go nearly four hours now.

It should be immediately stressed that none of the umpires threw the pitches the Yankees hit so eagerly. The Angels performance was light years worse than the umpires.

Nor should the untidiness detract from the commendable work of one C.C. Sabathia. He was pitching on three days' rest, wasn't he supposed to be too tired to be throwing a five-hitter over eight innings? The book says modern pitchers can't do this. The book can shut up.

"I don't think it's that big a deal," Sabathia had said Monday. "I think everybody is able to do it."

He can, anyway.

In something of an odd month, it was something of an odd Tuesday. Major league baseball not only had to clear Rivera of any malfeasance - studying the tape and finding no smoking gun with spit on it - but also defend its umpires.

Not that it mattered. The Yankees took the variables out of Game 4, including the umpiring. Good thing.

Contact Mike Lopresti at mlopresti@gannett.com

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