CINCINNATI -- The Phillies just want a clear explanation and consistent application of the collision rule at home plate.
They ended the sixth and seventh innings Saturday at Great American Ball Park with a runner being called out at home each time -- and that loomed large in a 6-5 loss to the Reds. The play in the sixth inning involved a collision, a replay review and Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg's first ejection as a big league manager. The play in the seventh had no controversy, but was a dagger for the Phillies, who dropped to 25-35.
It is the organization's worst start through 60 games since 2000, when they were 23-37.
"Everyone just wants to know what the rule is," Sandberg said of the play in the sixth. "What is it? It can't be just whoever is there [in New York] has their opinion, because we're teaching the catchers one thing, we're telling baserunners another thing."
Carlos Ruiz hit a solo homer to left field in the sixth to cut the Reds lead to 6-3. Marlon Byrd stood on first base with two outs when Domonic Brown ripped a double to right field. Third-base coach Pete Mackanin waved home Byrd, but a perfect relay throw from Brandon Phillips arrived well before the baserunner, who collided with Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco.
It was an easy call for home-plate umpire Chris Guccione. Byrd was out.
But Mesoraco also appeared to block the plate before the ball arrived, which would seem to be in violation of Rule 7.13. The rule says the catcher may not block the pathway of a runner attempting to score unless he has possession of the ball.
If the catcher blocks the runner before he has the ball, the umpire may call the runner safe.
"The way it's gone this year, I don't know the rules on that play," Byrd said. "I really don't. I assumed if you block the plate you're safe. If the guy doesn't give you a lane, you're safe. Obviously, that wasn't the case today. It's gone against us in the past with Chooch. So I really don't know."
"His knee was in front of home plate before he caught the ball," Ruiz said. "I don't understand."
Umpires ruled Phillies center fielder Tony Gwynn Jr. out at the plate on April 13 at Citizens Bank Park, despite the fact Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis had blocked the plate. Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, called the Phillies later to tell them a mistake had been made. The umpires correctly ruled Riuz blocked the plate April 19 in a 3-1 loss to the Rockies at Coors Field.
The Phillies felt Mesoraco blocked the plate much like Mathis on April 13.
"I always focus on catching the ball," Mesoraco said. "If I would have stayed where I was at, I would've obviously given him more of home plate, but I would've gotten a tough hop. For me, I wanted to back up and make sure I caught the ball. It's such a hard rule to decipher and it's not black and white. My first goal is to catch the ball and tag the guy from there. If they want to call him out, they'll call him out. I think I that I need to catch the ball and that was me getting in the best position I could to catch the ball and that was me getting in the best position I could to catch the ball."
Sandberg walked onto the field to ask for a review and the umpires obliged, but the officials in New York confirmed the call. Sandberg walked back onto the field for an explanation, but crew chief Tom Hallion ejected him almost immediately.
"There was some language beforehand," Sandberg said. "It's just gone against us too many times with different scenarios. … They said it's not our interpretation. It's New York's. They put it on them."
A MLB spokesperson said the call was confirmed because the replay officials felt that there was a sufficient lane for the runner to reach the plate.
The play remained on everybody's mind in the seventh, when Jimmy Rollins hit a two-out, two-run home run to pull the Phillies within 6-5. Rollins needs just six hits to become the franchise's all-time hits leader. Rollins has 2,229 hits. Mike Schmidt finished his Phillies career with 2,234.
Ruiz followed with a walk and Chase Utley followed with a double to right-center field. Mackanin waved home Ruiz, but this time there was nothing controversial or debatable about the play at the plate. Ruiz was out by a few feet -- thanks to an athletic play by Mesoraco up the third-base line -- to end the inning.
"Well, that's a big run, first of all," Sandberg said about Byrd's play. "That's a big run. As it ended up they threw out two guys at home plate where we could have had one of those runs by the rule."
Or at least what they think is the rule.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.