A ball that hits a batter while he's still in foul territory is supposed to be ruled dead, according to section 2.00 of the Official Baseball Rules. However, no umpire saw the ball hit Utley, who reached first, and Rollins ended up scoring the winning run from third base on a sacrifice fly by the next batter, Ryan Howard. Now the Rockies must win Monday's Game 4 to avoid being eliminated.
Plate umpire Jerry Meals agreed that he missed the call.
"Yeah, the ball came up and grazed off his leg and continued rolling up the line," Meals said.
But Meals didn't know that until reviewing the play after the game. Under Major League Baseball rules, the play could not be overturned by instant replay, which is reserved to determine whether a possible home run is fair or foul, or over the fence or not.
"No. 1, it wasn't seen by myself or anybody [on the umpiring crew]," Meals said. "If you look at it [on replay], you'll be able to see it ... off the front leg, got him up in the knee/thigh area. It just grazed him and the ball continued to roll the way it was rolling."
Even with that question answered, the key play in Sunday's game prompted several more:
1. Even if the baseball hadn't ticked off Utley's leg, should he have been called out?
He could have been, for two reasons.
First, it appeared that Utley was running inside the baseline for most of his 90-foot sprint to first base, a possible violation of Rule 6.05(k). The rule says a batter is out when:
"In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire's judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball."
Because Rockies pitcher Street fielded the ball after Utley had passed him, the last part of that rule would not apply. But perhaps the first part could have led to an out call.
Second, there was the matter of whether Utley was simply out at first base on the play. First-base umpire Ron Kulpa ruled that Street's throw pulled Todd Helton off the bag -- a decision the Rockies also disputed.
"It definitely hit his leg -- he told 'Tulo' [Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki] it hit his leg. I don't think he'd lie," Street said. "It didn't matter. He took off running, but he was still out at first base."
2. Did Utley "deke" the umpires?
Meals conceded that the umpiring crew might have been fooled by Utley, who showed no signs that the ball had bounced up and struck his leg. Instead, he dashed toward first base without hesitation.
"Chase Utley took off like it was nothing," Meals said. "He gave no indication to us that it hit him. Whatever percent of the time, you're going to get a guy that's going to stop if it hits him."
It conjured memories of Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series. With the Angels and White Sox tied with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Chicago batter A.J. Pierzynski swung and missed a pitch in the dirt for strike three. Angels catcher Josh Paul, believing the inning was over, rolled the baseball back to the pitcher's mound but Pierzynski realized that plate umpire Doug Eddings had not called him out, so he scampered safely to first. Pierzynski was replaced by pinch-runner Pablo Ozuna, who eventually scored the winning run. The White Sox won the game, the series and eventually the World Series.
"It was a swing, our catcher caught it, Doug Eddings called him out and somewhere along the line, because the guy ran to first base, he altered the call," a frustrated Angels manager Mike Scioscia said that night.
Countered Pierzynski: "I didn't hear him call me out, so I knew that I could run."
Likewise, Utley lowered his head and raced for first. He insisted he wasn't sure if the baseball struck him or not.
"I'm not sure if it hit me -- it was cold out there," Utley said coyly. "I've been on the wrong end of that, where the ball has hit me and I don't run, and it's an easy out. So I wanted to make sure that I ran hard to first.
"If they called it a foul ball, then I still would have had another chance to drive [Rollins] in."
3. Did the call -- or non-call -- really doom the Rockies?
Even if Meals had correctly called a foul ball, Utley would have been batting with a 1-and-2 count, one out, a runner at second base and Howard on deck. During the regular season, Utley hit a respectable .273 with runners in scoring position, accounting for 56 of his 93 RBIs. But he also hit just .203 with two strikes.
Had Utley been retired, Howard still would have had an opportunity to hit with Rollins either at second or third base and two out. He tied for the National League lead during the regular season with 141 RBIs, and he hit .330 in "late and close" situations.
The Rockies, obviously, would have taken their chances. Instead, Street wound up with a tough-to-swallow loss.
"I've definitely had them in my favor before," Street said. "Tonight, they weren't in my favor. It cost us a ballgame."