Baseball BeatJune 13, 2005
The Road to "Oh, My, Ha"
By Rich Lederer

Four teams have made travel plans to visit Omaha next weekend. Tennessee, Florida, and Nebraska swept their respective Super Regionals on Friday and Saturday, while Arizona State went the distance to beat Cal State Fullerton, the defending champions, in a three-game set that ended Sunday evening. The other four series are still in doubt and will be decided today. You can follow these games live by visiting the line scores, play-by-play, and boxscores on, the official web site for NCAA sports.

The right side of the College World Series brackets has been finalized. The Volunteers and Gators will face each other in the opening round, while the Cornhuskers will square off against the Sun Devils. The Nebraska players, in fact, may have already started their 50-mile trek from Lincoln to Omaha. Cornhusker coach Mike Anderson, however, might want to dry off first. In the meantime, Nebraska fans haven't seen this kind of tackling in years.

Notes and observations from around the Super Regionals:

  • The balk called against Arizona State pitcher Zechry Zinicola on Friday night in the ninth inning that Bryan mentioned in his "You Ain't Got No Alibi" article on Sunday was. . .oh. . .one of the worst decisions I've ever witnessed in a baseball game, especially considering the context.

    Let me set the stage. ASU was beating Cal State Fullerton, 2-1, in the bottom of the ninth inning in the first game of the Super Regional. Brett Pill of the Titans led off the frame with a double down the left field line that glanced off ASU third baseman Travis Buck's glove. Danny Dorn reached first base on a bunt single, moving Pill to third. Zinicola, who replaced Brent Bordes at this point, plated the tying run on an errant pickoff attempt to first, scoring Pill and moving Dorn to third base.

    Zinicola intentionally walked Ronnie Prettyman to put runners on the corners. He was in the process of intentionally walking Bobby Andrews to load the bases when, on the fourth pitch of the walk, third base umpire Jack Cox charged Zinicola with the balk to score Dorn and clinch the victory for the Titans.

    Cox claimed Zinicola violated Rule 9-3j of the NCAA Baseball Rules Book which says the pitcher has to come to a "complete and discernable stop."


    SECTION 3. A balk shall be called for the following action by a pitcher:

    j. The pitcher delivers the pitch from the set position without coming to a complete and discernable stop, or the pitcher comes to more than one stop from the set position (see 9-1-b);

    A.R. -- With the bases unoccupied, the pitcher does not need to come to a complete and discernable stop.

    Crew chief and second base umpire Paul Guillie sounded as if he wanted nothing to do with the call. "The call was made on the 3-0 count. The third base umpire made the call." He may as well said, "I didn't make the call. Go talk to Jack."

    "I'd like to see the players end the game," Arizona State Coach Pat Murphy said of the balk call by Cox. "He's got to live with it. That's not a sound baseball call and he knows it."

    Even Cal State Fullerton Coach George Horton admitted he had never won a game that way. "It was a good baseball game," Horton said. "It's just unfortunate it had to end on an unusual play. It certainly would have been more fulfilling I think for our club if we had won on a base hit or a sacrifice fly or something."

    I watched the game live and saw the replay of that incident many times. There is no doubt in my mind that Zinicola paused at the belt before delivering what would have been ball four to Andrews. The more germane point though is that Zinicola didn't gain any advantage if, in fact, he failed to come to a "complete and discernable stop." It was simply one of those "no harm, no foul" plays that 99.9999% of the time are "no calls."

  • My, I was disappointed in Oregon State pitcher Dallas Buck's body language Saturday night. Buck, who Bryan has labeled one of the "five best sophomore starters," got the call in the first game of the three-game series vs. USC as the ace of the Beavers pitching staff. However, he looked like a loser in the early innings, sending non-verbal signals that suggested a lack of confidence in himself and his teammates. Buck gave up four runs in the first three innings before settling down to pitch scoreless ball into the eighth. He walked six and hit three batters, leaving me unimpressed enough that I would want to see more before catapulting him into the ranks with Ian Kennedy, the USC sophomore sensation.

  • Michael Rivera's three-run homer highlighted a six-run third inning and starter James Adkins pitched into the eighth as Tennessee beat Georgia Tech, 13-3, to earn its fourth trip to the College World Series. The freshman left-hander struck out 11 and walked only one batter. Luke Hochevar's holdout gets delayed another week.

  • Brian Leclerc's two-run dinger capped a four-run first inning and Florida never looked back in beating Florida State, 8-5, Saturday night. The Gators improved to 5-0 in the tournament and, as the only unbeaten team thus far, appear to be one of the favorites to capture the CWS title next weekend.

  • Hank Blalock Alex Gordon, Nebraska's All-American third baseman, hit his 19th home run of the year in the first inning Saturday night to give his team a 2-0 lead that was never relinquished. Gordon, one of the four finalists for the Dick Howser Trophy awarded to the top player in collegiate baseball, is such a special talent that he made what was otherwise a poor draft on the part of the Royals respectable. The two-time Big 12 Player of the Year was pitched around and walked in each of his next two plate appearances before getting ejected by the third base umpire in the bottom of the sixth inning.

    Let me tell you, these third base umps had one heckuva weekend during the Super Regionals. When I umpired, we always thought working third was like being given a night off. Ha!

    * * * * *

    Update (4:00 p.m. EST):

    Baylor beat Clemson, 6-1. Kris Harvey homered for the Bears while Cory VanAllen and Ryan LaMotta combined on a nine-hitter.

    Tulane outscored Rice, 9-6. The Green Wave scored seven runs in the eighth and ninth innings to support J.R. Crowel and Daniel Latham who combined to stop the Owls.

  • Comments

    Regarding the balk.... The ASU pitcher did not "stop", he "bounced" or "changed directions", which I'm pretty sure is not defined as a "discernable stop" (at least as far as MLB is concerned).

    Having said that, it was a call that clearly was not within the spirit of the rule. As a father of a college baseball player, I've been consistently frustrated by college umpires that are "looking" to make the big call (interference at 2B on a DP is my pet peeve) instead of making calls that affect play.

    ASU's coach got it right.... Let the players decide the game. If there was a blatant balk (like Hochevar's), then call it. But let the players play.


    Dave Yeast, the director of NCAA umpires, has made a point of emphasis this year of enforcing balks. The NCAA made a rule change back in 2000 that disallowed the "change of direction," and brought thier rule inline with all other governing bodies. That rule change had been ignored by some umpires. Many coaches complained about this and therefore this year Yeast made balks a point of emphasis.

    The notion that the players didn't decide the game is ridiculous. It was not the umpire that misplayed the bunt in the inning. It was not the umpire that threw the pick-off attempt away allowing the tying run to score. It was not the umpire that balked.

    All these actions were done by the players on the field.

    The umpire simply reported - and correctly reported - what happened.

    The pitcher balked.

    If you don't want the umpire to balk, then don't have your player balk. It is that simple.

    Stop blaming umpires for the failures of the players and coaches.

    Re Dallas Buck, Peter Gammons mentions in his column over at ESPN today that Buck might be the top pick overall next year! While I said that Buck was in the top 5 sophomore pitchers, I definitely met 4-5. The top three is -- in whichever order you choose -- Andrew Miller, Max Scherzer and Ian Kennedy. After that, Buck and Daniel Bard are on the outside looking in.

    All five players could be top ten picks next year, and I don't think we have to worry about no pitchers in the top 5 again.

    Here's a thought on the balk that cost ASU game 1 of their series against Fullerton, absurd as it was ... the swift end to the game might have saved some pitching arms. If the game went into extra innings, who knows what kind of wear and tear the Sun Devils staff might have endured? On the other hand ASU might have won the game, so... never mind. String up the ump and flog him.

    Was it a balk? I don't care. I agree with you, Rich, there are situations where you don't make the call. It was during an intentional pass and did not affect play. In watching the video replay, the ump at 3rd (who made the call) appeared to hesitate and look towards home plate as he took a couple of steps towards the mound. He finally decided he's go it alone and called the balk.

    No matter how technically correct the umpire may be based on the rule book, a fundamental principle of sports officiating was broken. The violation of the rule has to matter to merit a call. You call violations that 1) create an advantage, 2) threaten the safety of a player (seldom a factor in baseball umpiring), or 3) are extremely egregious and obvious (i.e., necessary to maintain credibility and integrity). Friday's balk call did not rise to meet any of these criteria.