"That play, your focus goes to the bag, and you watch the foot touch the bag and listen for the ball hitting the mitt. In this case, I ruled the ball was caught by the first baseman, and the ball was actually caught by the pitcher," Nelson told a pool reporter before Saturday's game between the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers. "The pitcher kind of came out of nowhere on that play. I didn't pick that up. Obviously, looking at the replays, I wish I had."
The play was another in a series of missed calls made by umpires this season that has helped increase the call for expanded replay in baseball.
This one came in the second inning of Texas' win Friday night and stymied a possible rally by the Mariners.
Jesus Sucre hit a grounder to Mitch Moreland at first, who threw down to second to get the lead runner. The relay from Elvis Andrus back to first was in time to get Sucre but the throw was caught by pitcher Justin Grimm running to cover and not Moreland, whose foot was on the bag. Nelson missed that it was Grimm who caught the throw and called Sucre out.
"Personally, I thought Moreland caught it. I didn't even know. I heard a couple innings later about what happened. It fooled me, too," said Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan, who was in the on-deck circle when the play happened. "That's maybe one of those things that maybe someone is upstairs and they pick up the phone and appeal it really quick. I'm definitely not in favour of making these games 5 1/2 hours long. If I saw it that way, how could he not see it the same way? It looked very casual."
Nelson said his focus was on Moreland's foot and he never saw Grimm grab the throw. He wasn't the only one. Seattle manager Eric Wedge went out to argue that Moreland's foot had come off the bag, unaware that it was Grimm who caught the throw. Most of Seattle's dugout had the same reaction and only later found out about Grimm's grab.
"I haven't seen a play like this in 25 years," Nelson said. "Eric was very professional in how he came out. But there's never any consolation in a thing like this, because it's your job to get it right. We're competitive, too, and we want to get things right. So I'd love to say it makes you feel better, but you're angry just like everybody else that you ruled otherwise."
Nelson's mistake was the latest in a string unwanted attention for umpires. Two weeks ago, Fieldin Culbreth was suspended for two games because he was in charge of the crew that allowed Astros manager Bo Porter to improperly switch relievers in the middle of an inning.
A day before Culbreth's mistake, Angel Hernandez and his crew in Cleveland failed to reverse a clear-cut home run after looking at a video review. MLB executive vice-president Joe Torre said the umpires made an "improper call."
And in early May, crew chief Tom Hallion was fined after getting into a verbal spat with Tampa Bay pitcher David Price.
Nelson declined to talk about replay, but Wedge said it seems inevitable that replay will expanded in some capacity.
"I think we are pushing toward it. Some of that is going to be inevitable. It just has to be tempered," Wedge said. "I think that's where everybody struggles is where do you draw the line. I've always been a big believer in the human element of it, but I think there is a place for the replay."