NEW YORK -- Jimmy Rollins made a crucial and highly unusual 6-3 double play happen in the fifth inning of the World Series opener Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium -- the first close play for Major League Baseball's experienced umpiring crew.
After a leadoff single by Hideki Matsui for the Yankees, Robinson Cano hit a sinking liner to Rollins at short. Rollins actually tried to short-hop the ball for an easy double play, but caught the ball in the web of his glove just before it reached the dirt for out No. 1. Just to be safe, Rollins then stepped on second base and made the throw to Ryan Howard at first.
Whether the throw pulled Howard off first base -- TV replays were borderline -- became a moot point, because Rollins alertly noticed that Matsui was still straying off first base after the throw to first and told Howard to tag Matsui. Howard did just that, resulting in a double-play call. It was a crucial point of the game, with the Phillies protecting a one-run lead on their way to a 6-1 victory.
"I was trying to let it hit the ground," Rollins explained. "I looked up and I saw Robinson kind of halfway. Worst-case scenario is I catch the ball, and that's what happened. [Umpire Brian] Gorman started yelling, 'Catch! Catch!' and I was kind of disappointed. I was like, 'Noooo.'
"So I went ahead and threw it anyway. Matsui was already walking back with his head down. I was trying to yell at Ryan to make sure he tagged him, and he did. I turned around to Gorman and said, 'That's two outs.' And he's kind of like, 'Well, let's talk about it.'
"Once I caught it and threw it to first and he tagged him, it was automatic. There was really nothing to mess up there. And they got it right."
Indeed, all of the umps gathered and spent a minute discussing the play. They reemerged and reiterated the double-play call. Yankees manager Joe Girardi came out to mildly protest the call, and then play resumed.
"He caught me by surprise," Matsui said. "Even the second-base umpire didn't call it correctly right away."
It was the first close play to be adjudged by this crew, amid probably more scrutiny than ever in World Series history.
After a host of mistaken umpiring calls in this postseason, Major League Baseball broke tradition and filled the entire crew with significant World Series experience. The group includes veteran crew chiefs Gerry Davis, Joe West and Dana DeMuth, along with Gorman, Jeff Nelson and Mike Everitt. Davis is the crew chief for this series and was behind the plate for Game 1.
In 24 of the previous 25 World Series, the six-man crew has included at least one umpire working the event for the first time. In each of the past two years, there were three new umps working the World Series.
At least a pair of first-time World Series umpires has been on each of the past five crews. Starting in 1983, the only crew that did not include a World Series rookie before now was '97. That didn't happen this year because MLB wanted more experienced umpires to try and avoid the mistakes that plagued the first two rounds.
"They handled it right," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of the play. "I think what happened was, Rollins put a deke on Matsui is what it looked like. But Rollins caught the ball. And the umpire at second base called it a catch."
Rollins' play showed the incredible precision at this level of play. He was trying to do something few players probably would attempt in the same situation -- to not catch a ball.
"I was trying to let the ball bounce," Rollins said. "But I wasn't going to let it bounce way up on me. If it was going to bounce, it was going to bounce right into my glove. I got too close, I guess you can say."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.