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Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Infield flies, triple plays, and multiple outs on the same guy

A crazy play in Monday's Twins-White Sox game (video in story; H/T: Allan Erbsen at Minnesota): The Twins attempted to turn a triple play off a dropped "humpback liner," but messed up and ended up with one out.

White Sox have bases loaded, none out. Batter hits a low-flying flare behind second. The second baseman drops the ball (perhaps intentionally ) and has it scramble away from him. The runner on second starts to go, then retreats to second. The second baseman flips it to the shortstop covering second who catches the ball while standing on the base. He then throws to the first baseman, who tags the runner on first retreating, while the batter stands on first. The first baseman throws to second, where the runner there beats the tag. They then thrown to home plate (after a discussion), where nothing is happening.

After umpire consultation, the result: The batter is safe at first. The runner on first was out, the remaining runners are safe where they were. One out, bases still loaded. What happened after jump.

No infield fly. The ball was not hit high enough (it lacked the necessary parabolic arc). This is the tricky play that umpires and players struggle with. I would guess the runner on second retreated on a belief that the rule had been invoked or the ball was going to be caught. But it clearly had not been. One announcer started talking about this, without acknowledging how low the ball was hit.

It appears the Twins second baseman intentionally dropped the ball, hoping to start a double (perhaps triple) play. Or he closed his glove too quickly, which happens. But this looks pretty intentional. If the umpires called that, the batter would have been out and the play dead. This play illustrates the need for the rule--the runner on second retreated expecting the ball to be caught and was hung out to dry when the ball was not caught. This is a pure anti-deception rule. The other announcer picked up on this.

Having gotten away with the intentional drop, the second baseman's plans were foiled because he was unable to play the drop cleanly off the ground and it skittered away from him. This gave the batter sufficient time to reach first.

The Twins still could have gotten a double play around second base had the shortstop covering caught the ball and tagged the runner before stepping on the base. Once the ball fell (and intentional drop not called), the runner on second was forced to advance and retreating to second was not an option; he could have been tagged out even if standing on second base, which no longer was a "safe" base for him. But by stepping on the base first, the infielder put out the runner who had been on first; the runner on second was not forced to advance and could return safely to his current base.

The first baseman erred by tagging out the runner on first attempting to retreat, who already was put out on the force at second. In essence, the Twins put out the same baserunner twice--kind of a double play, I suppose. But the first baseman had no other option, since the batter had reached first safely.

Presuming the second baseman dropped the ball intentionally, he might have been looking for a triple play in two ways.

    1) Throw to the shortstop to tag the runner at second, then tag the base, then relay to first to get the batter; had he played the ball cleanly off the ground, this might have worked.

    2) Throw home to force out the runner on third, then throw to third to force the runner on second, then throw to second (shortstop covering) to force the runner on first. This would have been a 4-2-5-6 triple play, which the author of the linked MLB article says happened once, in 1893 between the Brooklyn Grooms and an older version of the Baltimore Orioles. This also would have been a clear option, since the play was right in front of the fielder when he picked up the ball.

Is it any wonder lawyers love baseball?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on September 1, 2020 at 10:00 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink

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