Third-base umpire Tim Welke got the call right.
But only after getting it wrong milliseconds earlier, which was the problem.
The confusion spawned by the conflicting signals was the focus of the fevered and entertaining argument that led to Girardi's ejection. It still was the dominant topic of discussion after the Yankees' 4-3 win over the Tigers Thursdayin front of 40,940 at Comerica Park.
Even more so than the back-to-back homers by Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez on consecutive pitches from Joaquin Benoit in the eighth that gave the Yankees the lead for good, and Rafael Soriano's escape act in the ninth.
"I'm still a little perturbed," Girardi said of the fifth-inning call as the Tigers took a 3-2 lead. "It's just a bad play. I'm going to get a fine for them making a mistake."
He could get worse for the theatrics that followed the ejection, including throwing his hat and mimicking Welke's foul-fair call as he walked off the field, which delighted the fans. Girardi thrust his arms skyward, pointed in one direction, then pointed in the other direction. "I don't play to the crowd,'' he said. "That's not my personality. I was just still very perturbed."
The Yankees had taken a 2-0 lead in the second on Raul Ibañez's RBI triple and Ichiro Suzuki's RBI single, but Alex Avila's two-run homer in the fifth tied the score. With two outs and Quintin Berry on first later in the inning, Andy Dirks hit a drive down the leftfield line.
When Dirks' ball landed, Welke emphatically threw his arms skyward, signaling a foul ball. Almost before his arms came down, he just as emphatically pointed toward the field, calling the ball fair. The spinning drive kicked past Ibañez, with Berry scoring the go-ahead run. The question was whether Ibañez held up on the play because of the initial foul call.
"I was a little quick," Welke said. "Then I saw the ball hit the chalk line and I pointed fair about three times . . . I don't think it had any impact. I've watched the replay, and I don't think there was any impact on the outfielder. I don't think Ibañez ever even saw me. We got the call right."
Ibañez said he didn't see Welke but reacted to the way the crowd reacted -- with a disappointed "oooo" after seeing the umpire signal foul -- and said he pulled up for a split-second. "I was going off the crowd," he said. "But I should have given myself more room."
What bothered Girardi was that Welke refused to put Berry back on third and then refused to let Girardi play the game under protest. Only a misapplication of the rules can be protested, not a judgment call.
"Joe thought it was a protestable situation, but it was a judgment call," Welke told a pool reporter. "He wanted to play the game under protest, and that was most of the discussion."
The homers by Teixeira and Chavez, who were 3-for-21 against Benoit entering the eighth, put the Yankees ahead 4-3. They had lost their previous eight games decided by one run, but the lead was preserved by Clay Rapada, David Phelps and Soriano, who pitched the final 11/3 innings for his 27th save.
Three pitches into the ninth, Detroit had men on first and third after Avila's double and Omar Infante's single. But Ramon Santiago lined softly to second, Berry popped to short and Dirks -- who had caused so much trouble four innings earlier -- flied to center to end it.
Girardi's tantrum played well with his team. "It's good he's sticking up for us," Chris Stewart said. "It fired us up, obviously."
Hiroki Kuroda, who was on the mound at the time of the dispute, had raised his arms, much as Welke had.
"I wanted to say something," Kuroda said through his translator.
He smiled. "But I think Joe said everything I wanted to say."