Thursday, April 27, 2017

Clearing Up a Myth - Timely Retouch of a Bobbled Fly

Catching a fly ball obliges runners to retouch their bases before attempting to advance, lest they be liable to be put out for failing to properly tag up. This play is so common, it has its own name and method of scoring: sacrifice fly.

Kerwin Danley calls Utley safe at home.
During Thursday's Dodgers-Giants matinee, the retouch/tag-up rule came into question when San Francisco appealed that Dodgers baserunner R3 Chase Utley failed to adhere to the time provisions of the retouch rule: the Giants thought he left early.

Sidebar: The Giants first attempted to appeal after calling "Time," but as Rule 5.09 Comment states, "Time is not out when an appeal is being made." San Francisco ultimately executed the appeal after the ball was put back into play.

The Play: With none out and the bases loaded, Dodgers batter Enrique Hernandez hit a fly ball down the right field line in foul territory, where Giants first baseman Buster Posey attempted to catch the ball as baserunner Utley attempted to tag from third base. Posey then bobbled the falling ball before finally securing possession. Replays indicate that after Posey's glove first touched the ball, R3 Utley left third base; he had clearly broken contact with the base by the time Posey finally completed his catch. San Francisco's appeal that Utley left early, however, yielded a "safe" call from 3B Umpire and Crew Chief Bill Miller, who ruled that Utley had properly tagged up.

Analysis: What are the time restrictions on runners during sac fly plays? When is a runner legally allowed to leave his base to avoid being declared out on appeal?

Time to leave: Split-screen of the first touch.
For instance, if a fielder doesn't cleanly catch the ball, but bobbles the baseball before securing it, when is the runner allowed to leave? At first touch, or at final catch?

It's a fairly rudimentary myth of the game that a runner must wait until the fielder catches the ball before leaving, but it exists for a reason.

Rule 5.09(b) instructs the defense on how to retire runners, and states that the runner is out when—"He fails to retouch his base after a fair or foul ball is legally caught before he, or his base, is tagged by a fielder."

Indeed, the phase "legally caught," "after the catch," or a similar iteration appears throughout the rules book in regard to the retouch/tag-up play.

Only in the Definition of Terms under Catch, and reprinted as a comment in Rule 5.09(a), does the sentence, "Runners may leave their bases the instant the first fielder touches the ball" appear.

Based on this seemingly hidden instruction, it's no wonder the confusion persists, but let all doubt be removed: the runner has legally fulfilled the rulebook retouch obligation on a caught fly ball at the moment a fielder first touches the batted ball (even if it's a different fielder than the one who ultimately catches the ball).

Video via "Read More"


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