Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. Yet it still provides long-time spectators with events that they have never seen before – or will again. Sometimes, a bad defensive play becomes three outs in the blink of an eye.
In the bottom of the eighth inning of Tuesday night’s Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox game, the first two Sox hitters – Mitch Moreland and Dustin Pedroia – reached base safely. Facing off against fresh-off-the-DL Zach Britton, Jackie Bradley skyed a pop-up to the outfield grass; shortstop J.J. Hardy quickly went back and got in position to make an easy catch. Perhaps the wind picked up at that exact moment, but Hardy misplayed the ball and missed the catch.
However, neither Moreland nor Pedroia could proceed to the next base until after the ball dropped, and both appeared to be confused, thinking it could have been called an infield fly. Hardy threw the ball to second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who tagged Moreland who was hovering near second base, stepped on second for the force out of Pedroia, and then threw to first baseman Chris Davis to triple up Bradley, who apparently had abandoned the play.
Was this just bad baserunning by the Red Sox, or did the umpires err in not calling for the infield fly?
In the 2017 Official Baseball Rules, the Infield Fly falls under the Definition of Terms:
An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second, and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher, and outfielders who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of the rule.
When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare “Infield Fly, If Fair.”
There is a further comment to the rule concerning a play such as this one, which ended in the outfield:
On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder – not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgement, the ball could have easily been handled by an infielder.”
As we unpack the initial definition, the term “ordinary effort” comes up. That term is also fully defined in the Definition of Terms:
ORDINARY EFFORT is the effort that a fielder of average skill at a position in the league or classification of leagues should exhibit on a play, with due consideration given to the condition of the field and weather conditions.”
So, there are a lot of terms and conditions we need to take into account.
- The play ended in the outfield, therefore no infield fly rule could be called?
By the comment on the infield fly, the actual placement of the ball during the play is not a consideration.
2. J.J. Hardy had to display extraordinary effort on the play?
Obviously, this may be the sticking point and is a view that is subjective. However, Hardy did not appear to have any difficulty in getting into position for the catch. It is reasonable to believe that most people would consider the effort to get into position for the catch as ordinary.
3. The wind changed the play?
There is no doubt that the wind wreaked havoc on the ball and made the play more difficult at the end for Hardy. Of course, for the benefit of the runners, the umpires need to make a decision on the fly rule prior to any late gusts of winds.
While it is possible that the umpires, in particular second base umpire Jim Wolf, could have seen that the wind was turning an ordinary play into a much more difficult effort, this play appears to tick off all the boxes of the Infield Fly rule.
However, the Red Sox were also asleep at the wheel. Moreland, Pedroia, and Bradley – especially Bradley – need to be aware that an Infield Fly was not called and had to hurry to their next base once the fly was muffed. While the play would probably have resulted in Moreland being out at third – or possibly Moreland and Pedroia both being forced – there is no way that the end result of the play should have been the triple killing that actually happened.