So the march to irrelevancy continued in a crushing manner. Another Phillies runner was cut down at home in the seventh, just two batters after Jimmy Rollins trimmed the deficit to one.
The manager hoped momentum from a complete win Friday would spill into Saturday. It did not. The Phillies are 25-35. It is their worst start since 2000. That team finished 65-97, resulteding in the termination of manager Terry Francona.
They felt robbed Sunday, although a lackluster start by Roberto Hernandez, a John Mayberry Jr. pinch-hit failure, and ineffective relief from Ethan Martin conspired against them. But the clubhouse found frustration in Rule 7.13, installed by Major League Baseball to prevent home-plate collisions.
Domonic Brown blasted a double to center. Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton fired to second baseman Brandon Phillips, who hit Mesoraco with a perfect relay throw.
Mesoraco provided a lane until the ball bounced once in front of him. He lowered his right leg across the plate and blocked it with his left. The ball hopped into his glove, and he morphed into a human blockade. Byrd, at first, planned to slide toward the back of home plate. When Mesoraco covered it, Byrd changed course.
"Marlon Byrd almost twisted an ankle with indecision there," Sandberg said.
Mesoraco caught the ball on the plate a second before Byrd crashed into him. Byrd adjusted his sunglasses and shrugged when home-plate umpire Chris Guccione made his call. The Phillies protested.
A 2-minute, 21-second replay review confirmed the call. The experimental rule states the catcher may not block the runner's path to home unless he has possession of the ball, and Sandberg argued Mesoraco offered Byrd no path.
"He put his shin guard down and blocked the plate without the ball," Sandberg said. "I think that's gone against us three times on different interpretations on different scenarios. Everyone just wants to know what the rule is. What is it? It can't be just whoever is there [in New York] has their opinion, because we're teaching the catchers one thing. We're telling baserunners another thing.
"They want to eliminate a collision with the catcher, well, the catcher instigated the collision by blocking home plate without the ball."
Umpires are not permitted to comment on replay reviews. And Major League Baseball will not discuss calls made at the league's video center in New York.
"It's such a hard rule to decipher, and it's such a tough thing to really - it's not black and white," Mesoraco said. "My first goal is to catch the ball and tag the guy from there. If they want to call him out, they'll call him out."
Sandberg showed more anger than ever before as Phillies manager. His only other ejection in the majors came on May 26, 1993, as a player, when he argued a close play at first base. He was tossed numerous times as a minor-league manager and even suspended for three games in 2008 for his role in a benches-clearing brawl.
After Rollins homered in the seventh, Carlos Ruiz walked. Chase Utley smashed a double to center, which again activated the Hamilton, Phillips, and Mesoraco combination. Mesoraco fielded the throw up the third-base line and swiped his glove at Ruiz's knees. There was no arguing that call.