10/07/2004 6:38 PM ET
Dial P for protest
Braves' complaint rendered moot by walk-off win
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
|Bobby Cox talks to crew chief Joe Brinkman (left) and baseball officials while filing a protest of Game 2 of the NLDS on Thursday. (John Bazemore/AP)
ATLANTA -- Confusion at a critical moment over a malfunction to the phone system in the Astros bullpen caused the Braves to play Game 2 of the Division Series under protest.
The controversy occurred in the bottom of the seventh inning after Atlanta's Rafael Furcal delivered an RBI single off Astros starter Roy Oswalt. The hit made the score 2-1 in favor of the Astros.
At that point, Astros manager Phil Garner informed crew chief and third base umpire Joe Brinkman that the phone system in their dugout was not operating to the bullpen.
For several minutes the umpires discussed the situation, consulting with Atlanta manager Bobby Cox.
When play resumed, the Astros made a pitching change, bringing in reliever Brad Lidge.
The Braves filed the protest, contending the Astros were delaying the game. It all became moot because the Braves rallied to win, 4-2, in 11 innings.
"It doesn't make any difference now, we won the ballgame," Cox said. "I don't even know if a protest like that could hold up. But it just seemed strange to our dugout that Lidge normally pitches the ninth, or sometimes the eighth and ninth, and sometimes in the seventh, I guess. We didn't think he was warmed up. But they could have had some type of communication problem. But the phone was working. Absolutely, 100 percent. It's irrelevant now and doesn't matter."
According to baseball rule 4.19, a protest must be filed in a timely matter and an umpire must recognize the protest before the next pitch is made. MLB vice president of on-field operations Bob Watson, who was in attendance at the game, explained afterward that you can only protest an interpretation of a rule.
With that in mind, the protest would, in all likelihood, have been dismissed.
Garner understands how the Braves felt there was a delay, but the Astros manager said the phones were down.
"I kept trying the phone several times," Garner said. "I can honestly see how [Cox] can feel that way. I had no alternative. I think this is too grand a stage to try to pull a stunt like that. I feel certain [Lidge] was ready at the time I wanted him, but we had called several times within the course of a minute and we couldn't get anybody. It was busy. We couldn't get anybody to answer the phone. And not until our bullpen coach, Mark Bailey, picked up the phone, did it work back at our phone. It seemed to work."
Along with Lidge, left-hander Mike Gallo was up and throwing.
"I was warming up and so was Lidge," Gallo said. "We were both ready to go. We picked up the phone and it's not working. We heard a ring, picked it up, nothing there. I was ready to go and I tried to call them [in the dugout], and it wasn't working. Then all of a sudden, the Braves equipment guy came down and said, 'The phone's not working?' We're like, 'No, it's not working.'
"It probably looked like they were stalling for time, but we were calling down to the dugout and it wasn't working. Lidge was ready to go in anyway. He was ready to go in. It wasn't like we were trying to get extra time for anything. I understand if we had just gotten up or something, but we had been throwing."
As the inning played out, the Braves stranded Furcal at third base when the Atlanta shortstop was tagged out at home trying to score on what would have been a wild pitch.
Representing the tying run, Lidge's pitch to J.D. Drew bounced and skipped a few feet away from catcher Raul Chavez.
Furcal hesitated and then sprinted home, but Chavez's flip to Lidge at the plate was in plenty of time for the easy tag out.
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.