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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Collision rule gets tweaked, but there's still controversy at the plate in Yankees' loss

Yankees second baseman Stephen Drew is tagged out

Yankees second baseman Stephen Drew is tagged out at home plate by Tampa Bay Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan during the fifth inning of an MLB baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Whether the Yankees make the playoffs or not -- and it's looking like a big, flashing neon NO right around now -- we can't help but mention the turning point in Tuesday night's 4-3 loss to the Rays, which appears to be yet another casualty of Rule 7.13, otherwise known as the Collision Rule.

How perfect that the Yankees' best chance to tie the score, and maybe even win a game in the Bronx got tangled up in a Joe Torre memo sent out earlier in the day meant to clarify the confusion still swirling around 7.13. We're not sure how many people got a chance to actually read the memo dispersed to all 30 teams as well as the umpires, but it sounds like Joe Girardi did.

Beyond that, the rest of the Yankees were kind of foggy on the subject. Even crew chief Larry Vanover said he received a call from the MLB offices, but no memo.

So to recap, the Yankees played Tuesday night's game without really knowing all the rules, kind of the way the entire league has been operating this season in what has been a very bumpy adoption of Rule 7.13. And Torre's mid-September changes -- excuse us, clarifications -- don't seem like they'll have much effect.

In breaking down the plate snafu, Stephen Drew attempted to score on Jacoby Ellsbury's single to leftfield with none out in the fifth. It was a poor decision on the part of third-base coach Rob Thomson, who later admitted as much. But Rays catcher Ryan Hanigan appeared to be blocking the plate since Drew rounded third -- supposedly a no-no without the ball, according to 7.13.

So when Drew finally arrived, an eye-blink behind the ball, he tried to twist himself around to squeeze a body part through the front side of the plate. But that doesn't work so well when a fully-padded catcher is camped on top of it and Drew was indisputably tagged out.

Since it was the tying run and all, Girardi figured he'd challenge, maybe with the slim hope that he was the only one who saw Torre's memo -- replay officials included. No such luck. After 79 seconds, the call on the field was confirmed.

But hardly explained. Girardi, to his credit, stayed rather composed in his final chat with Vanover -- despite railing against it all season. Afterward, Girardi said he had no choice but to declare open season on catchers, a fraternity that he belonged to not so long ago. "I've got to tell my guy to run him over," he said, "because every advantage is to the catcher now."

Hanigan certainly behaved as if he had nothing to worry about with Drew breaking down on him. If that was Ty Wigginton, under the old rules, the Rays would still be peeling him off the dirt. But it never entered Drew's mind to dislodge Hanigan from the ball, even though there wasn't a thumb's worth of space available to him.

Asked about the play later, Drew believed he should have been more aggressive. "If I had to do it again, I'd probably do it the other way because of the outcome," Drew said. "It's just tough. As a runner, you've got nowhere to go. The old school way is to take them out."

We're totally on board with protecting catchers, and the implementation of Rule 7.13 has done that to a degree. Fortunately, there hasn't been a repeat of Scott Cousins' brutal 2011 collision with Buster Posey. But there has to be a better compromise, and despite Torre's best efforts, MLB hasn't found that yet.

Also, messing with a rule in September, after governing the game a certain way for the previous five-plus months, only makes things worse. Basically, what Torre is trying to prevent is obvious calls -- when the ball clearly beats the runner -- from being overturned because a catcher is blocking the plate too early. The memo, as obtained by ESPN.com, stated that the catcher just can't "hinder or impede" the runner.

As Brian McCann said, that's still a lot of gray area. And Girardi thought that if this play happened Sunday, only 48 hours earlier, Drew would have been called safe on review.

Then again, does anyone really know? Should make for an interesting October.

New York Sports