By Steve Kallas
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With the Yankees trying to hang in there but on the virtual brink of not making the playoffs, there has been a fascinating play in each of their last two games (against Toronto on Thursday and against San Francisco on Friday) that are worth analyzing. Both will be lost in the annals of baseball history as neither had an effect on the outcome of the game.
PLAY 1: FRIDAY, SEPT. 20, 2013, TOP OF THE THIRD INNING
CC Sabathia pitching, Brandon Crawford on first, nobody out. The batter, Joaquin Arias, takes a full swing at a 1-2 pitch and hits the ball in fair territory just inches from home plate. Rookie catcher JR Murphy pounces on the ball, reaches to tag Arias and then fires to second. The throw is a little high and Robinson Cano can’t get a tag on Crawford, who is safe at second.
The YES TV announcers give full credit to Murphy for a good play. Michael Kay says, “Quick hands there by Murphy as he tagged out Arias at home plate and then fired to second but Crawford got in ahead of the tag.” Al Leiter then chipped in with “Good reaction play. Obviously a ball hit, you have to wait for the umpire to make a call. Dana DeMuth, the home plate umpire. Let’s see here the ball just kicks on the white line, and then rolls in front, nice job by JR Murphy.” Leiter went on to say that “You see that Crawford immediately running just in case it is fair. If that ball was a little lower, I think Robinson Cano could have made a tag on it.”
In reality, it was a poor play by Murphy. Why? Well, that’s easy. The batter (Arias) didn’t run at all out of the box. In fact, when Murphy picked up the ball, Arias was 88 or 89 feet from first base and wasn’t running. So why bother to tag him? He had no chance to get to first before a throw from Cano.
As you know, by tagging Arias, there is now no force at second. So Cano is forced to try and tag the runner (Crawford) rather than just stepping on second and throwing out Arias at first by 60 or 70 feet.
Nor did this dawn on the announcers when the next batter, on the next pitch, drove Crawford home from second. Imagine if the Giants had won the game, 2-1 (of course, A-Rod would later hit a grand slam for a 5-1 Yankee victory (and, unfortunately, surpass Lou Gehrig for the all-time grand slam record; now 24 with an asterisk).
In reality, a poor play by the catcher. Hopefully former catcher Joe Girardi (or Tony Pena) told him this later in the dugout.
One final thought on this play. When anybody (coach manager, announcer, former player, “expert,” fill in anybody you want) says that, “Obviously a ball hit you have to wait for the umpire to make a call,” ignore that advice at all costs.
It’s Intro to Baseball that, when a ball is hit and it’s not clear if it’s fair or foul, run as fast as you can BEFORE the ump makes a call. And, if you are the catcher in this instance, pick up the ball and DON’T tag the runner (who isn’t running) first. You might just turn a very easy double play instead of leaving a runner in scoring position.
PLAY 2: THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2013, BOTTOM OF THE FIRST INNING
This goes under the category of “When you watch a baseball game, you might see something you’ve never seen before.” While we sometimes see two runners standing on a base (especially third), we never see a guy dive back to third and then roll into foul territory, well of the base.
Hiroki Kuroda pitching, Jose Reyes on third, Brett Lawrie on first, one out. Adam Lind hits a dribbler to Kuroda’s left. Kuroda picks up the ball, throws home and catcher Chris Stewart runs Reyes back to third. Meanwhile, Brett Lawrie has come all the way around from first and slides into third. Stewart flips the ball to third baseman Mark Reynolds, who swipes at Reyes and misses the tag.
Reyes dives head first back into third, touches third briefly and then, inexplicably, rolls a few feet off the base into foul territory. Reynolds then tags Lawrie, who is standing on third base (Reyes is clearly NOT on third base at the time) and tags Reyes, who is clearly out because he is not touching third base.
Third base umpire Dan Iassogna calls both Reyes and Lawrie out. Lawrie argues, the manager argues, all to no avail. Inning over on the double play. The YES announcers try to explain what happened (interestingly, John Flaherty, an intelligent catcher in his day, admitted he really didn’t know the rule). Eventually, Michael Kay reads the rule (set out below) and states that, since both runners were on the base, it was a double play.
Except they weren’t.
Here’s MLB Rule 7.03 (a):
“Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, TWO RUNNERS ARE TOUCHING a base, the following runner shall be out when tagged and the preceding runner is entitled to the base, … .” (emphasis added)
On this play, however, when Lawrie, (the “following” runner) was standing on third and was tagged by Reynolds, Reyes (the “preceding” runner) was NOT touching third base. In fact, again inexplicably, he was a few feet away from third base lying on the ground in foul territory.
The only way this could have been a double play was if Reynolds tagged Lawrie in the brief instant that Reyes touched third base and then tagged Reyes when he was off the base. This clearly did not happen.
Again, since this play had no real effect on the game (Toronto won 6-2), there really was no discussion of it. But, clearly, it was the wrong call and Lawrie should have been safe at third and just Reyes called out for being tagged while not touching third base.
This writer was able to speak with a knowledgeable baseball man who has umpired many games. The best he could come up with was that the third base umpire thought that both Lawrie and Reyes were on the bag at the time Lawrie was tagged (so Lawrie would be out under the rule) and then Reyes came off third and was tagged out.
But that clearly did NOT happen.
Something you may never see again. You gotta love baseball.
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