Sunday, September 6, 2015

Running Lane Interference and Advancing to 1st Base

Running (runner's) lane interference out calls involving the 45-foot line between home plate and first base have produced discussions and ejections throughout the 2015 season, most recently on an RLI no-call in San Diego by HP Umpire Ted Barrett on Dodgers batter-runner (BR) Andre Ethier, resulting in a three-run error on a throw down the right field line. So what makes some BRs guilty of RLI and some not? Stay tuned to find out:

Some broadcasters, like Ray Fosse, do not grasp
the rule ("the running path no longer exists" is,
obviously, a completely inaccurate statement).
The Rule: 5.09(a)(11) (2014 OBR Rule 6.05(k)) states that a batter is out when, "In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead." The rule's comment clarifies what exactly is included in the running lane: "The lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane and a batter-runner is required to have both feet within the three-foot lane or on the lines marking the lane." As the first base bag is physically located in fair territory, the BR is allowed to exit the three-foot running lane "in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base." Essentially, the lane and first base share only that portion of the foul line marked by the white painted line ("chalk line").

This RLI no-call was correct primarily because
of the poor throw, but also because B1 appeared
to comply with the lane restriction of the rule.
The Interpretation: Jim Evans addresses a key exclusion of the exiting-the-lane courtesy afforded to runners in the immediate vicinity of first base: "A runner who has advanced the entire distance from home plate to first in fair territory making no effort to run within the lane is not extended the same leniency as the runner who runs in the lane as required and then cuts into fair territory near the base to touch it." Wendelstedt discusses quality of the throw: "The determination is not whether the throw is true, but whether it could still reasonably retire the runner."

Comment: RLI only occurs when B1 interferes with the fielder taking throw at first base (usually first baseman F3 or, if a bunt, second baseman F4). It is the responsibility of the fielder making the throw (usually catcher F2 or pitcher F1, possibly F3 or F5 on a bunt, etc.) to ensure that the throw could reasonably retire the runner if not for the potential interference. If the throw cannot reasonably retire the runner, it is not RLI.

Jurisdiction: Though either the home plate or first base umpire may technically make this call, the plate umpire has primary responsibility for actions of the batter-runner, including possible RLI.

Sample Ejection (and Argument) Plays Regarding Runner's Lane Interference (or No-Calls):
7/13/13: MLB Ejection 095-Carapazza (Gardenhire). In this ejection, B1 Clete Thomas hits a grounder in front of the pitcher's mound, fielded by F1, whose throw to first base is not caught by F3. PU Carapazza ruled B1 Thomas out for RLI, ruling that Thomas ran the entire length from home to first in fair territory and outside of the three-foot lane, and, in doing so, interfered with F3 taking the throw at first base. (QOCY. Replays indicate...Interference [BR out of lane, reasonable quality throw. Because he ran entire length to first base out of lane, he is not given the exit-the-lane courtesy/exemption].)

8/13/14: MLB Ejection 152-Davis (Girardi). In this ejection, B1 Stephen Drew hits a grounder infant of home plate, fielded by F2, whose throw to first base sails into right field. PU Davis ruled B1 Drew ran outside of the lane in fair territory, and interfered with F3 taking the throw at first base. (QOCN. Replays indicate...No Interference [BR out of lane, throw could not have reasonably retired runner].)

8/17/15: MLB Ejections 164|5-Knight (Fuld, Melvin). In this pair of ejections, B1 Sam Fuld bunts a ball to F2, whose throw to first base hits B1 and is not caught by F3. PU Knight ruled B1 Fuld ran outside the lane in fair territory, and in doing so interfered with F3 taking the throw at first base. (QOCY. Replays indicate...Interference [BR out of lane entire distance to first base, reasonable quality throw]).

9/6/15: Non Ejection-Barrett (Murphy). In this play, B1 Andre Ethier hits a grounder to F1 Nick Vincent, whose throw to first base eludes the outstretched glove of a leaping F3. PU Barrett ruled no interference on the play because (1) B1 Ethier complied with the runner's lane rule and (2) F1's throw was wild; B1 did not interfere with F3. Had the throw been more accurate, it is likely that RLI still would not have been called due to B1's compliance with the rule (QOCY. Replays indicate...No Interference [BR ran within lane, throw could not have reasonably retired runner].)


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