Monday, April 11, 2016

Infield Fly and a Double Play - Back to Basics for Phillies

Baseball's infield fly rule is not Philadelphia's friend, at least not after the Phillies managed to run themselves into two double plays in less than a week during infield fly plays. Seeing as remedial baseball education seems to be in order at the sport's highest level (at least for Philadelphia), we shall once again review the infield fly rule. First, the definition:
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 any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.
The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul. 
To summarize, there are three key considerations or criteria that must be satisfied in order for the infield fly rule (IFR) to potentially apply. All three criteria must be met in order for the IFR to be called, and the call of infield fly, mechanized by pointing upward and announcing "Infield Fly!" or "Infield Fly, If Fair!" if there is a question as to whether the fly ball will land in foul or fair territory, is made as soon as all three criteria are adjudged to have been met and the batter is out upon this call:

Criteria That Must Be Satisfied for the Infield Fly Rule to be Invoked
(1) First & second base must be occupied with less than two out (third may or may not be occupied).
(2) The batter must hit a fair fly ball (a ball hit into the air), which is not a line drive nor a bunt, that;
(3) In the umpire's judgment, can be caught by an infielder (F1 - F6) employing ordinary effort.

Confusion over the infield fly rule has produced either near-miss or successfully-executed double plays on a nearly annual basis over the past few seasons and, already, the young 2016 season is turning out to be no different. Here are the two plays that testify as to the Phillies' lack of infield fly rules knowledge.

New York (PHI-NYM), 4/8/16: With one out and runners on first and second, Phillies batter Odubel Herrera hit a fly ball to the pitcher's mound, where Mets third baseman David Wright attempted to catch the pop-up as HP Umpire Paul Nauert, having noticed that (1) first and second base were occupied with less than two out, (2) the batter hit a fair fly ball, and (3) F5 Wright had the opportunity to catch the ball with ordinary effort, signaled "Infield Fly" (Batter Out) as the ball descended toward Wright. Instead, Wright could not catch the ball, which bounced on the ground for Wright to retrieve. Upon picking up the ball, Wright turned his attention towards first base, where Phillies baserunner R1 Cesar Hernandez left the bag in a half-hearted attempt to take second, as if he had been forced. After a brief rundown, Hernandez was tagged out for the third out of the inning.

Philadelphia (SD-PHI), 4/11/16: With none out and the bases loaded, Phillies batter Darin Ruf hit a fly ball to left field, where Padres shortstop Alexei Ramirez retreated in an attempt to catch the batted ball. 3B Umpire Will Little, having noticed that (1) first and second [and third!] base were occupied with less than two out, and, (2) the batter hit a fair fly ball, ruled (3) F6 Ramirez could catch the ball with ordinary effort and accordingly called "Infield Fly" (Batter Out) while the ball was in the air and on its way down towards Ramirez. As it turns out, Ramirez did not catch the ball, which fell to the ground. Phillies baserunner R3 Cesar Hernandez (the same one as before), who had gone back to third base to tag up in case of a caught ball, fortuitously (for Philly) ran home and scored, while R2 Odubel Herrera (also, the same one as before), who either did not see U3 Little's call or still does not know the infield fly rule and didn't learn it since the 8th, ran towards third base, where he was tagged out by Padres third baseman Alexi Amarista barely before stepping on the bag, a call confirmed by replay review as the result of a challenge by Phillies Manager Pete Makanin.

SIDEBAR: Ted Barrett, Crew Chief during the Padres-Phillies play on 4/11/16, also presided over an infield fly no-call double play during a 2013 Twins-Angels game. During that game, HP Umpire Mike Muchlinski declined to call the infield fly during a none out, first-and-second infield fly ball situation because he ruled that Angels pitcher Ernesto Frieri (who was an infielder for the purposes of IFR) was unable to catch the ball with ordinary effort. For more information on ordinary effort, see STL-ATL Infield Fly (NL Wild Card): Why Call was Correct, and specifically, "a shortstop tracking a fly ball into left field and preparing himself to make a play or attempt prior to the ball arriving, as in the STL-ATL play, constitutes ordinary effort."

Note to MLB teams in eastern Pennsylvania: Please read the rule book, or least the one about infield flies.
Video: Wright is right about going after Hernandez, whose lack of awareness ends the inning (NYM)
Alternate Link: Rough times in Philly as Ruf hits an uncaught fly ball for a double play (SD)


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