Baseball is a simple game, really. But it would be much simpler if not for all of those darn rules getting in the way.
OK, so maybe rules are necessary, but the endless interpretations and the unusual scenarios they create tend to complicate and confuse matters, not only for the fans, both casual and diehard, but even for the players and umpires. For a good example of the mass confusion they can create, check out this weird play from Friday night's Brewers-Nationals game in Washington.
With Denard Span on first base in the first inning, Nationals batter Anthony Rendon hit a routine grounder to Brewers shortstop Jean Segura. Since Span was running from first on the pitch, he was able to beat the throw to second with an aggressive pop up slide, but the relay throw to first got Rendon by several steps.
An unusual, yet seemingly simple 6-4-3 single putout at first if you're scoring at home, only that's not at all how the play would ultimately be ruled.
Second base umpire Angel Campos, who originally ruled Span safe at second, quickly changed his mind and ruled Span out for interference at second base because the pop up slide led to a minor bump with second baseman Scooter Gennett. Of course, the slide had no bearing on Gennett's relay throw, as he was able to retire Rendon easily, but Campos' stuck to his ruling.
So it's a regular 6-4-3 double play after all ... or not quite.
Nationals manager Matt Williams came out of the dugout seeking an explanation after all of this went down, and though he couldn't formally challenge the judgment call, he did push the umpires to huddle, which led to another amendment to the original ruling. Span was still ruled out at second for what they then ruled "unintentional interference" with the defender. The umpires informed both managers that by rule, the play was dead the moment Span interfered and Rendon should be awarded first base.
In the MLB rulebook, the penalty mandated for interference is "the runner is out and the ball is dead." The umpires referred to this rule specifically in their eventual decision.
Campos declared that Span unintentionally interfered with Gennett and was therefore out, according to the rule. On the other hand, Rendon was safe at first because after Span interfered, the ball immediately became dead, meaning Gennett's throw didn't count.
"I think they got it wrong, but I can't tell you the ruling on it because I've never seen it before," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "Regardless of whether we turned it from there and got the guy at first base, it becomes dead, which, that just doesn't seem right to me."
Adding to the confusion — and perhaps aiding Roenicke's case that the call was blown — here's a section of rule 7.09 which deals with interference by a batter or a runner:
(e) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.
(f) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a batter-runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball, with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead; the umpire shall call the batter-runner out for interference and shall also call out the runner who had advanced closest to the home plate regardless where the double play might have been possible. In no event shall bases be run because of such interference.
First of all, there's no reference to unintentional interference specific to this type of play. It's also pretty clear that under both scenarios, the umpires should have ruled both the runner and the batter out despite the ball being dead. So Roenicke seems to be right, even if he's not totally sure how the rules worked. And really, the umpires' final ruling looks all the more ridiculous in this case because the interference didn't prevent the defense from getting the out to begin with.
It really turned into a big break for the Nationals, but it ended up being moot as Kyle Lohse retired Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche to end a scoreless first inning. We're thankful for that, or this really could have been a mess.
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