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Fly by Night
2003-05-14 14:32
by Mike Carminati

My friend Murray alerted me to a sniggling detail in last nights Expos-Giants game. It didn't end up figuring in the decision but the Expos flubbed an infield fly play to allow the Giants to tie the game in the fifth.

Here's the play-by-play from the AP article:

The crazy play highlighted the Giants' four-run fifth inning as they tied the game.

With Montreal ahead 4-3, the bases loaded and one out, Barry Bonds popped up the ball between the mound and home plate.

Plate umpire Jim Joyce signaled an infield fly, meaning Bonds was out and runners could advance at their own risk after the ball either was caught, or was dropped and touched.

The ball fell on the infield grass in front of home plate, between catcher Michael Barrett, pitcher Dan Smith and third baseman Fernando Tatis.

Neifi Perez tagged up at third and ran home after Tatis picked up the ball and touched home plate, thinking it was a force play. Tatis then flipped the ball to Barrett, who also stepped on the plate.

The teammates were chatting, with their backs to the plate, as Perez came across with the tying run. The play was ruled a fielder's choice, without an RBI.

``I just wanted to make sure, I was a little confused,'' Barrett said. ``I stepped on the plate. It was just a wacky play. I have had times in my career when I was embarrassed and that was the most embarrassing. I've just got to learn from it. ...

``When I tagged the plate, I thought everything was all right and all of the sudden I saw someone running behind me, and I saw Jim Joyce give the safe sign.''

The three Expos began arguing with Joyce, prompting Robinson _ who formerly worked as vice president in charge of discipline in the commissioner's office _ to scold them and set them straight. They then dispersed.

That's great stuff. Robinson seemed annoyed with his players, but isn't he responsible for drilling the infield fly in their heads (well, not literally)?

Here's the rule just for fun:

[Under Definitions 2.0]

An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule. When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare "Infield Fly" for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare "Infield Fly, if Fair." The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul. If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly. On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire's judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire's judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately. When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05 (L). The infield fly rule takes precedence.

Rule 6.05
A batter is out when...(l) An infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases; APPROVED RULING: In this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the Infield Fly rule applies.

OK, so by the definition, it sounds like the ump definitely made the right call. The players should have known this even before the ump called for an infield fly. The bases were loaded and there was one out. The ball landed clearly in the infield.

The batter (Bonds) is then out when the ump calls for the infield fly. Given that he is out, there is no force at home and both Expo players should have been aware of this. It is especially puzzling that Barrett, a catcher, is not aware of his duties when an infield fly occurs. He had better "learn from it," as he said.

It was a great heads-up play by Neifi Perez. Felipe Alou had better get him more at-bats (I'm joking of course). But I believe that there was no need to tag up. The ball was not caught. The definition of an infield fly clearly states, "The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball." If it is like any other fly, then Perez can go straight home.

I believe that the AP got it wrong as well: "Bonds was out and runners could advance at their own risk after the ball either was caught, or was dropped and touched." Perez was free to cross home at any point. He could have touched the plate before the ball came down as long as it was not caught. It is prudent to stay near the bag, just as it is on any fly ball. But if it was clear that no one would get to the ball, then Perez is free to hedge his bets and cross home while the ball is still in the air. Then again, if it was so clear that the ball could not be caught, then it would not be called an infield fly.

I wonder what happens if the only infielder who has a play falls flat on his face when the ball is hit. Say an infield fly is hit to the third baseman when a left-handed rotation is on, meaning that the rest of the infielders are on the right side of the infield. If the third baseman trips on a seam as he first starts to pursue the ball and no one else is in a position to get to it, does the ump call it an infield fly? That would seem to go against the original intention of the rule, which was to prevent infielders from turning double plays on trick plays when they drop a simple fly. But then again, couldn't an infielder intentionally fall down in order to set up a double play?

I will invetsigate further in the indispensible Rules and Lore of Baseball. I'll keep you posted.

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