NEW YORK — The legs of Rickey Henderson--which have stolen bases, won ball games and set records--achieved a new feat Friday night.
They ran the New York Yankees' 10-5 decision over the Angels into the office of American League President Bobby Brown, where it will be reviewed and videotapes will be scrutinized before the victory can officially be added to the Yankees' ledger.
The Angels played the series opener before 26,491 fans at Yankee Stadium under protest after Henderson ran into second baseman Bobby Grich on an infield play in the first inning. The point of contention is whether the collision was the result of fielder's obstruction or runner's interference.
Angel Manager Gene Mauch believes strongly in the latter. His hope--and it is a long shot--is that Brown will agree with him.
The play in question:
With Henderson on first base and no outs in the bottom of the first, Willie Randolph executed a drag bunt against Angel pitcher Don Sutton. It wasn't a good bunt, hit so firmly that it skidded past the right side of the mound, bringing in Grich and first baseman Wally Joyner in pursuit of the ball.
Grich stepped up and prepared to field the ball. When it got by Sutton, Joyner also ran toward the ball. Henderson, breaking toward second base, ran into Grich.
In a flash, Grich and Henderson wound up tumbling in the infield dirt while Joyner gloved the ball and threw to shortstop Dick Schofield at second base for the force-out.
In another flash, the debate was on.
First base umpire Dan Morrison waved Henderson out, citing runner's interference. That brought out Yankee Manager Lou Piniella to protest.
Home plate umpire John Shulock then overruled Morrison. Shulock said Grich obstructed Henderson's path to second and awarded second base to the runner.
That brought out Mauch to protest. And then to file a protest.
A three-run home home run by Don Mattingly followed immediately, and the Angels were well on their way to their third straight defeat.
Said Mauch: "One of the most helpless feelings in the world is having a good idea you're right, knowing you have to write it up and knowing they (the umpires) have 8 1/2 innings to get their story straight and override anything I can do.
"But I think we got a chance. I'm glad they have a videotape of it. My only hope is riding on the videotape and what Morrison said."
The baseball rule book describes obstruction as "the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."
Grich was not in possession of the ball, so the dispute hinges on whether he was in the act of fielding the ball.
Shulock maintained that the collision happened after Joyner fielded the ball. In Shulock's interpretation, Joyner was the fielder and Grich was a mere accessory to the play.
The Angels contended that the collision happened before Joyner got to the ball, that the ball was Grich's until Henderson ran into him.
Grich said he usually waits until he reaches the infield grass before calling off the first baseman. "I was hit before I got to the grass," he said. "I was on the dirt and . . . boom!"
The Yankees, of course, agreed with Shulock's overruling. "Grich interfered with our base runner," Piniella said. "He was nowhere near the ball. The umpire made the correct call."
The last protest to be upheld was the infamous Pine Tar Incident of 1983, involving the Yankees and George Brett. And when it was upheld, it was national news.
The Angels seem unlikely to make similar history, if only for the fact that the rule book states obstruction is a judgment call. Judgment is the key word here.
If the protest is upheld, the game would be replayed from the point of the dispute. It's doubtful that the replay could ever equal the original.
Consider what happened after the collision:
--The Yankees hit three home runs, two by Mike Pagliarulo.
--Sutton surrendered six earned runs in 1 innings, three on Mattingly's home run and another on Pagliarulo's first homer.
--Henderson came within a few feet of becoming the first Yankee since 1972 to hit for the cycle. After collecting a single, a double and a triple in his first three at-bats, Henderson powered a pitch by T.R. Bryden down the left-field line that drifted foul before reaching the seats. Bryden came back to strike Henderson out.
--Ed Whitson was cheered at Yankee Stadium while pitching 5 innings of three-hit relief. With their verbal abuse, and threats of physical abuse, Yankee fans had driven Whitson to the point of pitching only in road games, far from the madding crowd. But Friday night, he heard the uncommon roar of "Ed-die, Ed-die" between innings.
If Whitson can earn acceptance at the Bronx Zoo, anything in this world of baseball is possible.