Texas Tech and East Carolina had been trading haymakers all day today. Both sides had made solid hits. Both sides made incredible defensive plays. Both sides had superb pitching. It was everything you could want from a baseball game.
I hate complaining about officiating, and I kind of hate the people that complain about officiating too. There is never one reason why any sports team loses, and the refs or umps are always low on that expansive list. There are so many factors that go into real life that blaming any official for "deciding the game" is asinine.
It was the top of the ninth, and Texas Tech was struggling all day with scoring runners on base. A ball hit straight at the first baseman somehow missed the glove of ECU's rangy ballplayer, and the Red Raider runners advanced. Tyler Floyd rounded 3rd base and came barreling into home plate, intent on breaking the gridlock of the tied, back-and-forth game.
Officiating is the hardest job in all of sports. You are never recognized for being excellent. You are hated the first second you mess up. It's like being an offensive lineman, if offensive linemen never got awards and got death threats and things thrown at them when they were bad. If you're an official, everything you do is wrong. You didn't call enough fouls. That ball was obviously a strike. How could you miss that holding call? It's an eternity of hate, a lifetime of never being good, a ridiculous period of time where being called god-awful at your profession from everyone from 8 year olds to geriatric old men in wheelchairs is the rule, not the exception.
Officiating is not easy.
Tyler Floyd slid into home. The throw was early. It seemed like Floyd was out for sure. Floyd contorted and twisted his torso and left shoulder to perfectly slide under the tag. The umpire was behind the catcher. All he saw was what appeared to be an on-time tag and the East Carolina catcher turn to face him, ball in glove. The official called Tyler Floyd out.
Floyd was not out. The replay clearly showed that Floyd had touched home plate before the catcher could make the tag. The umpire couldn't see that. The play, which for some unfathomably idiotic reason, is not reviewable. How is a judgement call at the plate not reviewable?
As a younger, more rambunctious man, I hated officials. I saw them as arbitrary guardians of what they assumed was the correct call. I saw it as the part time job of has beens who just wanted to exert their will over high school sports again. Sports were fun. Officials were barriers to the fun I could be having.
As a younger man, I also admired Rick Reilly a great deal. While Rick Reilly is currently a mere shade of what he was currently, there was a time in which his words on sports were the most read words on sports in America. I was going through a book of his greatest stories for Sports Illustrated while being grounded for not coming home from the Dixie Little League ballpark on time when I came upon an article that changed my view on officiating forever.
ECU celebrated as we headed into extra innings. The back and forth battle continued into the 13th inning.
East Carolina's closer was dealing. Red Raider runners made some questionable steals. The ECU defense was solid until the 13th when it broke wide open.
Big XII Player Of The Year Eric Gutierrez hit a single with two outs that drove in two runs. Robert Duggar did not allow a single run in the bottom of the 13th in specific and all of the extra innings in general, and Texas Tech won, 3-1, to force a rubber match on Sunday. The missed call ultimately did not matter.
And yet, the game could have been over earlier, if only that damn ump hadn't blown that call. Even when the end result was the same, the umpire was and is (and partially deservedly) catching serious flack.
The story was titled When Your Dream Dies, and it was about referee Kenny Wilcoxen. Wilcoxen was a legacy ref. His dad was a ref. He was a ref. It ran in the family. Kenny Wilcoxen was selected to ref a state championship football game, a colossal honor. Kenny blew a game-ending call. Many things were said to Kenny Wilcoxen after that game. Disgusting things. Awful things.
Kenny Wilcoxen attempted suicide.
He survived, but the attempt shook his family, and some of those who sent him hate. According to Wilcoxen, a fan at a basketball game he reffed next week shouted at him, "You should have taken more pills", so obviously there were some who very literally did not get the message.
Referees do not decide games. The bottom line is that Texas Tech could have scored more before Floyd slid into home. We could've fielded better or pitched better, holding ECU to 0 instead of 1. We didn't make enough plays. This is not to say we didn't deserve to win. This also does not absolve the umpire of a bad call. It was a terrible call that many outside of the Texas Tech fandom are calling complete and total crap.
However, let's not forget the human behind the mask. This blown call could have costed Texas Tech a trip to the College World Series. It was bad. Very bad. In the end, the Red Raiders pulled it out and lived to fight another day.
Texas Tech will be back tomorrow to square off against East Carolina for a winner-take-all game. I hope that we as a fanbase can remember the difficulty of a thankless job when the next umpire inevitably blows a call.