In yesterday's Red Sox-Blue Jays game, with the Jays leading 2-1 in the top of the fifth and the Sox batting, Gabe Kapler was on first when Tony Graffanino hit a line-drive home run over the left field fence ostensibly giving Boston a 3-2 lead. But Graffanino stopped running between first and second and then the camera panned to Kapler who was lying face down past the second base bag.
The replay showed that Kapler's left foot got caught up in the dirt past second (oddly, not the bag itself). Kapler turned over and seemed to be ready to recuperate from an ankle turn or some other momentary injury.
But Kapler didn't get up. Finally, a trainer and then a cart were called out. It turns out that Kapler had a much worse injury than he initially appeared to have. He ruptured his left Achilles' tendon.
The entire time Graffanino along with the Red Sox two runs was stuck in limbo between first and second. Graffanino was careful not to pass the lead runner, no matter how little resemblance that title had to Kapler's physical state at the time.
At one point it appeared that two escorts would help Kapler limp around to home plate. But the Red Sox eventually brought in Alejandro Machado to pinch-run and the two runners proceeded to home while a cart was driven onto the field to take Kapler away.
The Sox led but one question remained. Was replacing Kapler kosher, so to speak?
Well, there are a great many things not in the rulebook. But, like Prego, it's in there:
The ball becomes dead when an umpire calls "Time." The umpire in chief shall call "Time" (c) When an accident incapacitates a player or an umpire; (1) If an accident to a runner is such as to prevent him from proceeding to a base to which he is entitled, as on a home run hit out of the playing field, or an award of one or more bases, a substitute runner shall be permitted to complete the play (h) Except in the cases stated in paragraphs (b) and (c) (1) of this rule, no umpire shall call "Time" while a play is in progress.
Okay, no problem with the main thrust of the call. However, I do have some provisos.
First, I saw the play replayed five or six times from different angles and watched the entire five-minute gap in play while Kapler tested his leg, and I never saw anyone call time as the rule requires.
Also, it seems odd that the runners can score while various personnel are on the field tending to Kapler. How can a pinch-runner round the bases while the player he replaces is still on the field.
That said, I doubt that anyone would contemplate protesting a game on such grounds.
Anyway, the announcers at the game said it was the first time they had seen a play in which a lead runner was incapacitated rounding the bases on a homer. They could think of a play where either a runner or the batter couldn't at least limp around the bases to complete the play. I couldn't think of one either so I consulted my umpiring oracle, Rich Marazzi's The Rules and Lore of Baseball.
He didn't have a play for the lead runner scenario, and the only play involving the batter that mentions is in the minors:
Nick Bremigan tells a story about an incident that took place in a minor league game in the mid-1960s
The batter hit a long shot down the left field line that would easily clear the fence, but there was some doubt whether it would be fair or foul. As the batter was trotting to first, intensely watching the ball to be certain that it remained in fair territory, he tripped over first while jumping for joy, and turned his ankle. The fair ball was signaled a home run by the umpire, but it was physically impossible for the batter to circle the bases because of his injured ankle.
The manager then asked the umpire if he could insert a pinch-runner to complete the circuit around the bases. Following a brief conference among the umpires it was decided that, while this was highly unusual, it was legal.
According to the rule book, a substitute may enter the game any time the ball is dead. (3.03) A home run is technically a dead ball situation in which the batter is awarded four bases.
Shades of "White Shoes" Johnson, eh?
That last bit seems to contradict the verbiage at the end of the actual rule. Then again, it may have been wordsmithed since the Marazzi book was published.
At least the umps didn't have to confer over the play.