Interference Call Looms Large In Oregon State’s College World Series Loss

OMAHA, Neb.—The look on Pat Casey’s face said everything.

The Oregon State head coach sat listening intently to his right fielder Trevor Larnach at the post-game dais Tuesday night, as Larnach answered whether or not yet another controversial call in the College World Series had a negative impact on the Beavers’ momentum.

“No, I don’t think the momentum really switched,” Larnach said. “I think we’ve dealt with it before in this tournament, and we’ve learned from it. Just wipe it and move on.”

As his junior right fielder said that, Casey raised his eyebrows and cocked his head to the left, cracking an exasperated, almost sarcastic smile. His Beavers had just lost, 4-1, to Arkansas in Game 1 of a best-of-three CWS finals, and though no one on the team would publicly use it as an excuse, a fourth-inning baserunner interference call clearly changed the complexion of the game.

Matched up against Arkansas ace righthander Blaine Knight, who entered the contest a perfect 13-0, 2.88 on the season, the Beavers had an early 1-0 lead and seemed poised to rev their offensive engines—as they’ve done with great success throughout the tournament.

The inning opened with Larnach’s CWS-record fifth double—a fly ball that left fielder Heston Kjerstad lost in the sun. Larnach advanced to third on a single by equally dangerous catcher Adley Rutschman, and suddenly, the Beavers had Knight on the ropes.

DH Tyler Malone followed with a sharp grounder to shallow-playing first baseman Jared Gates, who made an excellent pick but opted to throw to second instead of trying to catch Larnach at home. Larnach crossed the plate as Rutschman was called out at second, and Malone beat out the subsequent throw from shortstop Jax Biggers at first base.

But just as Larnach started toward the third-base dugout, home-plate umpire Travis Katzenmeier directed him back to third base, and second-base umpire Chris Coskey signaled baserunner interference. Instead of sliding, Rutschman had ducked below Biggers’ throw and veered in his direction toward the left of the base.

By rule, on any force play the runner must slide on the ground before the base in a direct line between the two bases. Rutschman didn’t do that, and, as a result, both he and Malone were called out, ruled a 3-6-4 double play.

Casey immediately sprinted from the dugout to argue and was clearly displeased with Coskey’s rationale.

“Yeah, I don’t agree with his explanation,” Casey said. “It appeared Rutsch was doing everything he could to get out of the way. The ball left the guy’s hand. They weren’t near one another, so I don’t agree with the call, but it’s certainly not something that I’m going to say that affected us or affected the game.  

“It did affect that inning. We had that run taken off the board right there, so that makes it tough. We’ve got a guy on first base with a two-run lead and one out, so everybody can look at the tape and decide for themselves what they think.”

Instead of having a two-run lead and continued pressure on Knight, the Beavers inadvertently gave Knight new life. The righthander regrouped and struck out the next hitter, third baseman Michael Gretler, on a biting 83 mph slider, to end the frame with no damage done in the scoring column.

“I mean, that was huge,” said Knight, who wound up going six innings and moving to 14-0 on the season. “He slid in late, interfered with Jax and played into our advantage.

“That gave me a little drive to want to get out of the inning without something happening. It gave me a little boost. And then offensively we started putting some good at-bats together after that, so I think it played out in our favor.”

The momentum shift was palpable, as it energized a heavily Arkansas-leaning crowd of 25,321. And in the very next half inning, Oregon State ace lefthander Luke Heimlich lost the strike zone, and the Beavers became unusually sloppy on defense.

After cruising through the first four frames, featuring a 92-95 mph fastball and sharp 79-81 mph slider, Heimlich issued a one-out walk, allowed back-to-back singles, hit two consecutive batters, and then—shockingly—surehanded second baseman Nick Madrigal made his second error of the CWS, bobbling a weak grounder in the infield. Madrigal, the No. 4 overall pick to the White Sox, had made zero errors during the regular season.

The Razorbacks scored four runs in that frame, and that would be the only four they would need, as Knight combined with relievers Barrett Loseke and Matt Cronin to shut down the potent Oregon State offense the rest of the way.

For the Beavers, the baserunning interference call was the second they’ve been called for in this World Series. A similar call was also made in the decisive Game 2 of last year’s CWS Finals between Louisiana State and Florida. LSU was denied the game-tying run in the seventh inning, after Jake Slaughter was called for interference on a slide into second base. The Tigers would go on to lose that game, 6-1, ending their season.  

The Beavers, too, suffered their fair share due to umpiring in last year’s Series. Home-plate umpire Greg Street had an infamously wide strike zone in the semifinals against LSU, rattling the ultra-selective Beavers in a season-ending loss; TV cameras caught several strike calls on pitches that scraped the opposite batters’ box. The game before, a fair ball that outfielder Steven Kwan hit off the left-field wall was ruled foul and wasn’t reviewed. However, after that game, Casey took the blame. He had the power to ask for a replay review and failed to do so.

Tuesday night’s call on Rutschman, by rule, was the correct call, despite Casey’s protestations. Even if it weren’t, there was nothing the Beavers could do to change the ruling. They had opportunities afterward to claw back into the game, but they simply weren’t able to.

“It’s been difficult for us,” Casey said. “We’ve had—it seems there’s some things that I can’t control that haven’t gone our way, so we’ve just got to do a better job of trying to get through those things.”

The Beavers might only have one more chance.

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