Torii Hunter's three-run big fly on Thursday night pleased a lot of people.
The Anaheim Angel fans—no disrespect intended, but the team simply is NOT anywhere close to Los Angeles—in attendance were audibly ecstatic. Hunter's teammates were obviously thrilled. And the center fielder himself was all kinds of pumped up.
Nevertheless, the happiest soul should be C.B. Bucknor.
The three-run bomb and carnage that ensued will deflect a considerable amount of heat that rightfully should be directed at the umpire. Had the pitcher's duel between John Lackey and Jon Lester not become a one-sided romp, many more words would be devoted to Bucknor's inexplicable judgment on two "close" calls involving Howie Kendrick at first base.
Luckily for the Jamaican-born blue, neither blunder figured in the scoring—although both took additional throws out of Lester's formidable left arm.
However, C.B.'s respite should be brief considering this was the opening game of a playoff series and his mistake came at the Boston Red Sox' expense.
This was not an "oh, it'll even out over 162" scenario. Nor was it a "Don Denkinger in the 1985 World Series" one, but it's far closer to the latter. An erroneous call in a five-game division series could be the difference between advancing to the championship series or advancing to your couch.
As I said, neither folly ended up mattering too much, but only by the grace of the Baseball Gods.
Sooner or later, footage of Bucknor's blown calls at first base will hit YouTube. When they do, those fans who missed the pair of hideous testaments to ocular inadequacy will have to see them to believe what I'll try to describe. I won't be insulted if you don't take my word for it.
The first butchered call was bad enough.
Kendrick hit a grounder to shortstop Alex Gonzalez in the bottom of the fourth inning. Gonzalez took his time, but still managed to throw high and wide of first. Kevin Youkilis made a nice play to grab the wayward throw and swipe to tag Kendrick's waste as he ran by.
Youk had him by a good half-step—not a huge margin, but easy enough to see for most fans and certainly a no-brainer if you're paid to get the call right. Despite a paycheck for that very thing, Bucknor called the Angel safe.
It was a terrible call, but there were already two outs and the next batter was Jeff Mathis, who barely hit his 200-pound weight in 2009. Mathis whiffed and the game progressed, no big deal.
Then came the bottom of the sixth.
Kendrick led off the inning with a grounder to Mike Lowell at third base. The Gold Glover snared it with ease, took a gander at the ball to check the number of seams, and then launched another rope that was a little higher than ideal. Again, Youkilis made a nice play to corral the throw and recover in time to get the speedster.
This time, the call was impossible to miss.
There were at least 18 inches between Kendrick's lead cleat and the bag when Youkilis stepped on first while holding the ball.
Everyone knew he was out. Even the Angel fans in the stadium knew Howie was dead by a full stride. Dustin Pedroia, positioned almost directly behind Bucknor on the play, reacted in immediate disbelief when he saw the inevitable "safe" signal.
It was unreal.
Look, I'm not a fan of the Sox.
They've gotten a lot harder to dislike since cutting ties with the likes of Johnny Damon, Manny Ramirez, and Curt Schilling. Furthermore, some of my favorite Bleacher Report members are proud Sox fans as is my about-to-be brother-in-law. Still, Boston is very much one of the bullies on the block so I've got no overwhelming sympathy for the organization.
But fair is fair.
Those calls were positively BRUTAL. Beyond defense.
I'm fairly certain the visually impaired could've made the right call on that second play without difficulty. Sadly, both sequences were beyond the observational powers of a professional umpire selected to work baseball's most important games to date.
That's mortifying for Major League Baseball and the suits with the power. Assuming, of course, Bud Selig and his cronies are even paying attention.
The playoffs are not only the most crushingly stressful games of the year, but they're supposed to be the reward for 162 hard-fought and hard-cheered games. These are the best teams in the Show playing for all the marbles and the fans want to enjoy the spectacle.
Nobody—NOBODY—wants to see the outcomes tainted by poor umpiring so it makes sense the best men and women should be chosen for the job.
Which begs the question, what the hell is Bucknor doing anywhere near the playoffs in the first place?
The man seems like a wonderful human, who happens to be a really bad umpire. It's one thing to have some nebulous reputation for poor calls, it's another thing altogether when 21 percent of pro ballplayers tell Sports Illustrated you're the single worst blue in the game.
Twice in a four-year span.
Usually, poor reviews by those most familiar with your work get you called into the manager's office or a spot in line waiting for unemployment. If you're an umpire in the Bigs, apparently it gets you a spot on the game's grandest stage.
C.B. Bucknor better hope the audience opts for tomatoes and garbage rather than batteries and chairs. Because, eventually, his incompetence will matter.
Even if Major League Baseball doesn't think so.