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Friday, October 18, 2019

More post-season infield flies

Twice in one night.

I missed this USA Today piece by Andrew Joseph arguing that the Nationals were lucky in their clinching Game 4 of the NLCS that infield fly was not declared on a run-scoring uncaught bases-loaded blooper to right field that scored the first of four first-inning runs. Joseph compares this with the infamous call in the 2012 NL Wild Card, arguing that the umpire was right not to invoke here, which shows why the 2012 call was wrong (he calls it a "fiasco"). (He provides video links to both plays, so watch for yourself).

I do not understand why the Nationals should be "thankful" the rule was not invoked. They scored one run on the play; that run scores anyway, since baserunners can run at their own risk when infield fly is declared. They scored three more runs in the inning subsequent to the fly ball. Two came on consecutive hits by the two batters following the fly ball, runs which would have scored anyway. The second out of the inning came on a sacrifice bunt by the pitcher, after which the fourth run scored on a hit. The Nats would not have had the pitcher bunt with two outs (as would have been the case had the rule been invoked, making the batter out for the second out of the inning). But who knows what would have happened in that at-bat were the circumstances different--maybe the pitcher is put out and the fourth run does not score, maybe the pitcher manages to get a hit. For that matter, the entire inning could have gone in any direction. The point is that it is not so obvious that an infield fly call would have killed the Nats' rally.

The comparison to the 2012 call is inapt, because the plays are different in significant respects. This year's ball was hit to right field while the 2012 ball was hit to left. Umpires are less likely to invoke on a ball to right field, especially near the foul line, because the first throw to start a double play would be so long that no double play is possible (thus the rule's purpose of preventing a double play by disincentivizing the intentional non-catch is not implicated); this was the area with the fewest infield-fly calls in every season I watched. The Cards' second-baseman also tried to catch the ball sideways, facing the foul line, body language that does not indicate that he was "settled comfortably" under the ball, which is what umpires look for. In 2012, the Cards' shortstop was facing the infield with his hands up, body language indicating he was settled and waiting for the ball to come down and calling his teammates off. The 2012 play owed, in part, to the foul-line ump's perspective--because of his position and perspective, the ump believed the ball was closer to the infield than it was, such that a double play might have been possible (thus the rule's purpose implicated). Or perhaps the ump on the 2012 call was a textualist (thus the call was indisputably correct), while the ump in 2019 was a purposivist (so the unlikelihood of the double play rendered the rule inapplicable).

Anyway, I thought we were past the point that this 2012 call was regarded as the Citizens United of baseball calls.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 18, 2019 at 01:20 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink

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