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Sunday, May 30, 2004

Strange Infield Fly Play

Yesterday, I scored the Twin/Royals game at Kauffman stadium for when a play occurred which I (and everyone else in the press box) had never seen.

The situation was this. Bottom of the 5th inning, 1 out, bases loaded (Relaford on third, Berroa on second, and Beltran on first). Mike Sweeney is the hitter. Sweeney hit a pop fly behind first base. First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, second baseman Michael Cuddyer and right fielder Jacque Jones all converge while the first base umpire Jeff Kellogg signals an infield fly. The ball hits Mientkiewicz's glove and then falls to the ground. The first base umpire signals that the batter is still out because of the infield fly. Meanwhile Beltran on first has gone half way to second and seeing the ball drop continues to second. Berroa on second hasn't moved and so Beltran and Berroa are now standing on second. Relaford on third speeds toward home as soon as the ball hits the ground.

Mientkiewicz picks up the ball, whirls, and throws it in the direction of first base, which of course no one is covering since they're all out in the outfield and the pitcher is standing on the mound. The throw however, hits Mike Sweeney square in the back as he stands near first base. Sweeney hits the ground in pain as the ball rolls over towards the Royals dugout. By this time Berroa is waving Beltran to get back to first and he starts heading that way. Catcher Henry Blanco retrieves the ball over by the Royals dugout and throws it to first where right fielder Jacque Jones catches the ball and just beats a sliding Beltran, tagging him and touching the base for the second out of the play and the third of the inning. The home plate umpire signals the press box to indicate that Relaford's run counts and the Twins trot off the field.

Immediately, the press box erupts in a frenzy of chatter, confused looks, and media trying to find their rule books to divine the correct scoring of the play. The questions that immediately arise are these?

1. Does Sweeney get a sacrifice fly since Relaford scored?
2. Can a sacrifice fly be credited on an infield fly?
3. Does Mientkiewicz get an error?
4. Does Sweeney get an RBI?
5. Do the Twins get credited with a double play?
6. Did Beltran have to go back to first since the ball was dropped?

As far as I could tell no one knew exactly what should be done. Meanwhile, the game continues on and I can't keep entering pitch by pitch data until I enter something for that play. So I score on paper. By the end of the next half inning there is a tentative decision, which I enter, so that I can catch up and continue to score. However, in the subsequent innings the official scorer changes the decision several times and so I back edit the play in the software. By the time the game is over I think the correct decision has been made, which falls out as follows in answer to the questions above.

1. Sweeney does not get a sacrifice fly since an infield fly was called. This is because Sweeney was out as soon as the ball was in the air. I'm not exactly clear on why but this was the reasoning given in the press box.
2. Apparently not.
3. Mientkiewicz does not get credited with an error since the batter is still out.
4. Yes, and I assume this is the case since the Twins did not get credited with a double play. So the play is analogous to a ground out which scores a run.
5. No. The official rules state that a double play cannot be credited when the defensive team makes an "error or misplay" on the play. Mientkiewicz dropping the ball is ruled a misplay so no double play.
6. Yes. Beltran had to return to first per the rule on the infield fly which states:
"The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball." So if the ball had not been touched then Beltran would not have had to return. So his put out goes 3-2-9.

The software we use for scoring also had some difficulty with the play and I had to manually adjust the putout, assist, and play by play printouts after the game that get faxed to the Elias Sports Bureau. After the game the first base umpire had the following quote:

"An infield fly was called. So I go up (hand signal) with an infield fly. He drops the ball. He's still out. And I let everyone know behind me that he was out because it was an infield fly. No, it was not a catch."

I'm not sure it would have made any difference had the umpire ruled that the ball was caught and only then dropped being taken out of the glove.

Strange day at the ballpark.


Anonymous said...

The Twins TV announcers talked to MLB umpire supervisor Steve Palermo during the game and he stated that Beltran did not have to return to first base because the ball was not caught.

Anonymous said...

Was the batter credited with an RBI?

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