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The Old Statue of Liberty
2003-03-16 01:22
by Mike Carminati

The Old Statue of Liberty Play

Talk about smothering a ball.

Boston's Shea Hillenbrand attempted to field a Toby Hall grounder to lead off the third inning, but the ball disappeared into Hillenbrand's shirt and was ruled a two-base error. After the play, the Devil Rays scored three runs, all unearned, off Pedro Martinez.

As for Hillenbrand's crazy play, [Boston manager Grady] Little said it was the right call.

``I thought (Hillenbrand) was going to grab the ball and throw him out, but he couldn't find it,'' Little said. ``It was extraordinary.''

Hall was first credited with a hit and a one-base error, but the call was later changed to a two-base error. The umpires apparently invoked the ``lodging'' rule that calls a play dead when the ball gets stuck.

But was it the right call?

Here's the rule to which, I believe, the article refers:

The ball becomes dead and runners advance one base, or return to their bases, without liability to be put out, when...

(g) A pitched ball lodges in the umpire's or catcher's mask or paraphernalia, and remains out of play, runners advance one base; If a foul tip hits the umpire and is caught by a fielder on the rebound, the ball is "dead" and the batsman cannot be called out. The same shall apply where such foul tip lodges in the umpire's mask or other paraphernalia. If a third strike (not a foul tip) passes the catcher and hits an umpire, the ball is in play. If such ball rebounds and is caught by a fielder before it touches the ground, the batsman is not out on such a catch, but the ball remains in play and the batsman may be retired at first base, or touched with the ball for the out. If a pitched ball lodges in the umpire's or catcher's mask or paraphernalia, and remains out of play, on the third strike or fourth ball, then the batter is entitled to first base and all runners advance one base. If the count on the batter is less than three balls, runners advance one base.

But this rule deals solely with foul balls. The ball that Hillenbrand fielded was clearly fair or it would have only counted as a strike on the batter. So the ruling does not apply at all. The runner according to the rules should have been allowed to run the bases until Hillenbrand retrieved the ball.

That said, I would say that the extrapolation of the given rule to accommodate the game's circumstances was an appropriate one. I think that the underlying principle of the rules is to maintain the fairness and the elegance of the game. Allowing Hall to lumber around the bases while the Red Sox performed a cavity search on Hillenbrand for the ball would have been both unfair and inelegant.

Clearly, the runner is not out, but how many bases he is awarded is unclear even if the rule is applied. The rule awards one base for a "lodging" but Hall was awarded second base. I guess the decision was that one cannot assume the runner would not have beaten the throw even if the untoward play had not occurred. Therefore, the sole base awarded was second.

However, the ruling was a two-base error, which made the subsequent runs unearned. There are two problems with this call: 1) The rule provides for one base. If that one base is second then how could it be a two-base error? He would have been granted first on the basis of the lack of a throw. If first bases is the one base awarded then how did the runner end up at second? The umpire evidently applied the rule and also granted an extra base as a penalty against the Sox. 2) There is no provision in the rule to charge the fielder with an error due to a "lodged" ball. If the ball lodges in a catcher's mask, is it an error on the catcher? I would think not, though how it would be scored evades me. It does seem a draconian ruling on Hillenbrand as well unless the scorer felt that he should have caught the ball and by missing it allowed the ball to disappear in his jersey. That's fine, but then how is it a two-base error? It's a one-base error to allow the batter to first and then another base awarded by rule 5.09g. I guess here is one of those situations where a team error is advocated by some.

I guess overall it was fair and elegant: The D-Rays got an extra base, at least. Hillenbrand was charged an error for a play he should probably have made. Martinez was not responsible for the runner. It's incredible that this game still has plays that are new or at least rare enough to evade the rulebook. I have to hand it to the umps to come up with an equitable solution even though it was not really a kosher one according to the rules in the book today.

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