Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Running Lane Interference Only Applies to Fielder at First

The following analysis pertains to potential running lane interference in the Astros-Yankees game on April 5, 2016. It explains why HP Umpire Dana DeMuth's interference no-call was proper.

No Interference Between Home and First Base in New York (Video). In the top of the 8th inning of a tied Astros-Yankees game, Astros batter Carlos Correa hit a short ground ball up the first base line, where it was fielded by Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances, who attempted to throw to first baseman Mark Teixeira as Correa ran to first base. After Betances' wild throw sailed over Teixeira's head and into right field, causing a Houston run to score, Yankees Manager Joe Girardi argued with HP Umpire Dana DeMuth that Correa should be declared out for having run outside the batter-runner's lane on his way to first base. Though replays clearly indicate that Correa failed to run within the runner's lane and instead ran in fair territory the entire way down the first base line, DeMuth properly did not call B1 Correa out for runner's lane interference (RLI). Here's why:

OBR Rule 5.09(a)(11) states that a batter is out for runner's lane interference 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." Wendelstedt interprets the rule relative to the "being fielded to first" action: "The determination is not whether the throw is true, but whether it could still reasonably retire the runner." Naturally, the whole thing is moot if the runner stays within the lane.

Under the written rule and its interpretation, RLI only occurs when the batter-runner interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base (in this case, it was first baseman Teixeira), NOT the fielder making the throw (in this case, pitcher Betances). Under Wendelstedt's interpretation, it is the thrower (Betances)'s responsibility to ensure his throw can reasonably retire the runner. If the throw cannot reasonably retire the runner, there cannot be runner's lane interference: the RLI rule is not designed to protect the player making the throw; it only protects the person taking it. Because Betances' wild throw could not have reasonably retired Correa, Correa could not have interfered and DeMuth's no call was correct.

SIDEBAR: The NCAA rule similarly states, "interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base," but unlike pro, has an approved ruling that would produce a different result for the Correa/Betances play, had it occurred in college. Under NCAA Rule 7-11-p A.R. 1, "If the batter-runner is running illegally to first base and his being outside the lane alters the throw of a fielder, hinders or alters a fielder’s opportunity to field the throw, or the batter-runner is hit by the throw that has been made in an attempt to make a play, it shall be called interference and the batter-runner is to be called out. Note: It is not runner’s lane interference if a fielder is not covering the base." So, under NCAA (and NFHS as well) rules, B1 Correa would be declared out if, in the umpire's judgment, his running illegally to first base caused F1 Betances to alter his throw.

For more information, refer to "Running Lane Interference and Advancing to First Base" (9/6/15).

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