Rule Book 101: The Wild Intentional Walk

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Baseball is a unique sport filled with situations that you may only see once every few years, if at all. Umpires must be prepared to rule on these situations in real time, but we have our own expert to rely upon. Brandon Magee explains how umpires handle a wild intentional walk.

Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. And yet, it still provides long-time spectators events that they have never seen before – or will again. As baseball fans, we are well aware of the written and unwritten rules that govern the game. But, sometimes a pitch doesn’t end up where it was supposed to…

The Major League Rule Book defines a wild pitch thusly:

A WILD PITCH is one so high, so low, or so wide of the plate that it cannot be handled with ordinary effort by the catcher.

Wild pitches come in a number of varieties: The 58-foot curveball that eludes the catcher as it skids off the dirt; the high rider that rises up and over everything and lands atop the protective netting beyond the backstop; the slider that goes behind the batter as it continues to hook; the knuckleball that knuckles more or less than expected; And the cross-up, where the pitch thrown is not the pitch the catcher expects. Sometimes, a truly wild pitch brings other rules into play.

In the top of the fourth inning on August 27, the Colorado Rockies had runners on second and third against the Washington Nationals, with Daniel Descalso – the eighth man in the lineup – up to bat. Despite the fact that there were two outs, manager Dusty Baker called for the intentional walk in order to bring pitcher Jorge De La Rosa to the plate.

On his first pitch, A.J. Cole missed the target that was Wilson Ramos by multiple feet – nearly painting the outside edge of the plate rather than soft-tossing a ball to the far side of the batter’s box. Once the ball skips past Ramos, Nolan Arenado scampered home from third base with David Dahl moving on to third.

The rule book defines an intentional base on balls in Section 9.14(b):

The official scorer shall score an intentional base on balls when the pitcher makes no attempt to throw the last pitch to the batter into the strike zone, but purposely throws the ball wide to the catcher outside the catcher’s box.

Section 9 of the rule book deals with the Official Scorer, and is the only place in the rule book that mentions intentional walks. This may no longer be the case in future years, as there is a proposal to change the rules for intentional walks – making them automatic rather than forcing the pitcher to throw four balls wide of the mark. However, Cole’s wild pitch is an example of why the game should not change: One never knows what may happen on the way to the plate.

[The intentional walk was eventually completed, and then Jorge De La Rosa singled up the middle anyway, driving in Dahl from third. So much for that bit of strategery.]

The very next day, the two teams met again. In the top of the eighth inning with Descalso at second base and Ryan Raburn up to bat, Koda Glover threw a pitch that eluded the glove of the catcher Ramos and caught the shoulder of home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski, bounding to the backstop. Descalso raced all the way from second base to score the fifth Rockies run – but was it interference on the umpire?

Rule 6.01(f) discusses interference from umpire and coaches:

If a thrown ball accidentally touches a base coach, or a pitched or thrown ball touches an umpire, the ball is alive and in play. However, if the coach interferes with a thrown ball, the runner is out.

As the umpire did not intentionally move his shoulder into the ball, the play stands and the run scores.

A wild pitch can take many different forms, and impact the game in many different ways. With runners on base, pitchers have to be sure to deliver the ball to their catcher – or bad things can ensue.


Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.

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