The first came in the bottom of the eighth with the game tied 2-2.
Leading off the inning, Tony Cruz found himself in a 3-2 count. The seventh pitch of the at bat was a change up the catcher swung at but failed to put in play, seemingly striking out for the first downed Cardinal of the inning.
Home plate umpire Bob Davidson ruled the ball was tipped and caught by Padre catcher Yasmani Grandal, but Cruz was adamant, pointing at the ground and gesturing to Davidson.
“I was telling him ‘it hit the ground, it hit the ground,’ and I saw him look at the first base umpire and I guess he confirmed it,” Cruz said.
After a brief delay, it was ruled the ball did indeed touch the ground before Grandal caught it, and Cruz was given new life. The replay appeared to show Cruz missed the pitch entirely, but the Cardinal backstop was sure he got a piece afterward.
“I know he called it right away, so I definitely thought I foul tipped it,” he said. “I heard dirt, so it was either the ball or his glove. I knew I foul tipped it so I told him it hit the ground.”
The next pitch was punched up the middle for a single, beginning a rally that would end in a Jon Jay double that scored two and gave the Cardinals the lead.
The officiating crew wasn’t done being tested, however.
In the top of the ninth with the bases loaded, pinch hitter Jake Goebbert stepped in and singled to right field to score one run. Alexi Amarista, who began the play on second base, rounded third and was sent home.
Shane Robinson fired the ball to A.J. Pierzynski, in as a defensive replacement, for a play at the plate.
The ball was in time but a few feet up the line and Pierzynski corralled it and swiped at Amarista as he went by.
That’s when things got interesting.
On the swipe, Davidson could be seen gesturing to Pierzynski and saying something, but no call was officially made. Amarista thought the tag missed and scrambled to touch home. Pierzynski raced to catch him, but the San Diego shortstop reached the plate well before the second tag arrived. At this point, Davidson called him out and the Padres bench erupted.
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“I thought I got his arm, but I wasn’t sure and when I saw him off the plate it was just a natural reaction,” Pierzynski said of his second effort. “It was so loud I couldn’t hear Bob. Bob said he was pointing, but I couldn’t see that so I just went after him again.”
The 37-year-old said later Davidson told him he was yelling “tag” and pointing, but he couldn’t be sure. Manager Bud Black would challenge the play, eventually being tossed for arguing after the call was upheld.
In his post game scrum, Black told reporters both Amarista and Pierzynski behaved as though the first tag was a whiff, hence the scramble to the plate, but the Cardinal catcher said he was running on instinct.
“Whenever you don’t hear an umpire or see an umpire- because he was kind of behind me- you just go. That’s just what you’re always taught as a catcher,” he said. “I thought I got him and I haven’t seen anything yet to prove me wrong.”
Mike Matheny, a 13-year veteran catcher himself, agreed and stood by the call after the game.
“I’ve been in that position before too where it’s just kind of bang-bang. You feel like you had it, but you see this guy obviously missed the plate the first time through. There’s many times you can just go over and tag him and take away all doubt,” he said. “What we’re doing with this new process is there’s an ability to continue the play. If he sees this guy sliding five feet from the plate and can go over and make sure that we get this thing right, that’s a good play.”
The call stood and Trevor Rosenthal eventually struck out Tommy Medica to end the drama, the Cardinals escaping with a 4-3 win.
For his part, the Cardinal manager said he was happy to not have to challenge the call had it gone the other way.
“[It was] one of those where I don’t know if there’s enough camera angles to really get you what you’re looking for,” he said.
The Cardinals haven’t had good luck with challenges, boasting only a 25 percent success rate (5-for 20).
With the victory, St. Louis is two games back of the Brewers heading into the weekend.