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Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Limiting rules, no-hitters, and perfect games

John Means of the Orioles pitched a historic no-hitter against the Mariners on Wednesday. He faced the minimum 27 batters, did not walk a batter, and not hit a batter. But it was not a perfect game. In the third inning, Means struck out Sam Haggerty swinging at a curve ball that bounced through the catcher's legs and rolled to the backstop, allowing Haggerty to reach first. (It was ruled a wild pitch, although it should have been a passed ball; the pitch was not in the dirt and the catcher should have dropped down to block the ball). Haggerty was caught stealing, then Means retired the final 19 batters.

The uncaught third-strike rule is the cousin to the infield fly rule. As general principle, a person cannot be put out unless the last person to have the ball on the play catches and holds the ball. The catcher must hold onto strike three to record the out (although it counts as a strikeout, he must tag batter or throw him out at first), just as an infielder must catch a fly ball to record the out. The IFR reflects an exception to this general principle, where the defense gains an overwhelming advantage, thus an overwhelming incentive, by intentionally not catching the ball to complete the out. The rules establish a similar exception for third strikes--if a force is in effect on at least one base, such that the defense could get multiple outs if the catcher intentionally does not catch strike three, the batter is out even if the catcher does not catch it.

Retired U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford, the sharpest critic of the IFR, would dump the third-strike rule along with the IFR. If a pitcher throws a great pitch that fools the batter (check the video in the link above; Means threw a vicious curve), he should be rewarded with an out, regardless of what his catcher does. I do not agree, but it is a consistent position.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 5, 2021 at 08:25 PM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink

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