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. And sometimes, the chain of command falls apart.
On Thursday night in Boston, Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel came out for the ninth inning with Boston leading the Texas Rangers 6-2. On a 2-2 pitch to the leadoff batter, Nomar Mazara, Kimbrel tossed a curveball that Mazara whiffed at with the ball diving inside, and bounding away after hitting his left instep:
From the centerfield angle in this video, it is obvious that 1) Mazzara swung at the ball (for strike three) and 2) that the ball then hit him in the ankle. Rule 5.09(a)(6) of the 2017 Major League Rule Book states that:
A batter is out when he attempts to hit a third strike and the ball touches him.
Because the rule book is often confusing, the Approved Ruling of Rule 5.05(b)(2) also is relevant:
When the batter is touched by a pitched ball which does not entitle him to first base, the ball is dead and no runners may advance.
Unfortunately, what is clear on video was not so clear to home plate umpire Chad Fairchild, who saw the swing but did not see the ball bouncing off of Mazara’s foot – therefore ruling the play a strikeout and a wild pitch. Fairchild utilized rule 5.05(a)(2) which reads:
The batter becomes a runner when the third strike called by the umpire is not caught, providing (1) first base is unoccupied, or (2) first base is occupied with two outs.
Boston manager John Farrell challenged that call, stating that Mazara should be called out on the strikeout that hit him on the shin. At which point, the system broke down.
— MLB Replay (@MLBReplays) May 26, 2017
While the call not being overturned did not hurt the Red Sox – with Craig Kimbrel notching the rare four-strikeout inning to end the contest – the error by the replay officials looms much larger. How often are the replay officials confused by the call on the field? Should that not be the very first thing asked to the crew chief during their review discussion, “what is the exact call on the field?” How often do they rule a review non-reviewable because they are not well versed on their own protocols?
Umpires on the field are not always in perfect position to see all the links in a chain of events. One should not blame Chad Fairchild for missing the ball hitting the foot – in the small time frame he is watching the ball to see if it enters the strike zone, watching to see if the batter swings at the pitch, and listening to see if the batter foul tips the ball – all while being behind catcher Christian Vazquez who is moving towards the ball as it arcs towards Mazara’s toes. There are, after all, three other umpires who are watching the play from different angles and could have seen the pitch go off the shoe. The fact that not a single one noticed what the ball hit to cause it to radically change directions is an issue. But, there is still replay to fall back on. Except, when the officials in charge of the replay review are not actually aware of what they are reviewing.
When all the safeguards fail that are put in place to get the call correct, there is a problem. Luckily for the Red Sox, this umpire error did not change the outcome of this game. But, the next one might. Major League Baseball needs to look at this incident, and make certain there is no “next one.”