Sunday, April 22, 2018

No No-No? Out of Base Path Call Voids Potential Sox Hit

Three innings before Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea celebrated the first no-hitter of 2018, HP Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt and crewmates Adrian Johnson, Tripp Gibson, and Brian Gorman convened about a potential out-of-the-base-path call at first after Red Sox batter-runner Andrew Benintendi attempted to avoid a tag near the foul line for Boston's first base hit of the game, thus breaking up Manaea's masterpiece.

The implications of this decision were significant: Either no-call the tough-to-tell base path infraction and end a potentially historic night with two outs in the top of the 6th inning, or rule Benintendi out, consequently keeping Manaea's no-hitter intact.
Related Post2018 No-Hitter 1, Hunter Wendelstedt (1; Sean Manaea) (4/21/18).

As Jim Joyce would say, "This isn't a call. This is a history call..."

Official Baseball Rule 5.09(b)(1) states that any runner is out when:
He runs more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely
To be clear, we're not talking about a baseLINE, and the 45-foot runner's lane does not apply to this play (the runner's lane only applies to plays of potential interference...there is no potential for runner's lane interference here). Refer to the following related post to learn about runner's lane interference.
Related PostRunner's Lane Interference Plagues Chicago's Heyward (5/24/17).

The runner's lane is not part of this play.
Instead, we consider whether batter-runner Benintendi ran more than three feet from the direct line between where he was at the time A's first baseman Matt Olson first attempted to tag him and the first base bag (see annotated image at the top of this analysis).

From the available camera angles, this appears a 50-50 call if there ever was one; I see no definitive evidence to support the on-field ruling, nor do I see any clear and convincing evidence to refute it. This is really close to three feet. In sum, it is difficult to ascertain from a distance whether the runner deviated by more than three feet from his established base path, and I wouldn't be able to confirm that he was less than three feet from the direct line. If this call were subject to Replay Review (it's not), I'd have to imagine the Replay Official would rule "call stands."

Gorman's crew rehashes the play near first.
This crew consultation for an out-of-the-base-path no-call suggests that Wendelstedt had doubt as to whether Benintendi illegally exited his base path; after all, with a fielder lunging from one side of the baseline to the other, it is clear that the runner will attempt to avoid this tag. The only question, naturally, is whether the runner ran more than three feet from his path to do so.

U1 Johnson, primarily engaged with the question of tag/no tag—both of player and of base, though this play developed into a pretty clear swipe tag situation—signaled "safe" due to Olson's missed tag; there appeared to be no initial call pertaining to the base path issue.

Gil's Call: Oddly enough, or perhaps not as odd as it is confounding, is that the Jim Joyce safe call during Armando Galarraga's Imperfect Game—one of the plays that was supposedly a catalyst for MLB expanded video replay—has everything, yet nothing, to do with this call.

Did the game situation influence the call?
This out-of-the-base-path play, combined with an official scorer's decision to rule a dropped fly ball an error instead of a base hit, helped keep Manaea's dream alive and made his no-hitter possible. If this call doesn't get made, that no-hitter never happens. The notion is simple, yet the gravity of this call held an untold (and unsounded, and perhaps subconscious if nothing else) weight during the crew consultation. It was the white elephant in the stadium, which, pursuant to the umpire's creed, "had nothing to do with the call that was made."

Finally, Joyce's call had nothing to do with that of the Gorman crew, either, because Joyce's call would have been reviewable today; out of the base path isn't, and absent someone borrowing a yard stick from the Coliseum grounds crew, who's to say whether this call was definitively correct or not? There could be a lengthy debate as to where precisely the runner was when the fielder gained possession of the baseball and moved toward him in order to start his tag.

So when Wendelstedt walked to Red Sox Manager Alex Cora to relay the bad news, and Gibson and Johnson visited with Benintendi, the most notable outcome—besides the no-hitter—was that Gorman's crew now won't have to live with the next line (but most importantly, the final sentence) from the aforementioned Jim Joyce quote: "...And I kicked the sh*t out of it. And I took a perfect game away from that kid who worked his ass off all night."

If the arm is 3 feet, does it ever get to the line?
After the game, Gorman said the crew talked about body parts, "We were discussing the three-foot variation. Your arm is three feet long and you got a glove at the end of it that's a pretty good indicator. He [Benintendi] goes to the side of him [Olson], then he went more than three-feet."

Naturally, the question becomes whether Olson's fingertips ever made it to Benintendi's base path—did the leather ever break the plane formed by the direct line between Benintendi at the time of the tag and first base?

If it did, perhaps a visual exercise could help determine whether another arm length (starting at the direct line) could have reached the runner. If Olson's hand did not make it to Benitendi's path, however, then Gorman's logic becomes faulty: of course the runner was more than three feet away from the fielder's reach...the fielder didn't start the play even with the runner's base path, meaning that the runner had a "head start" of sorts.

Ugh, math.

Benintendi simply surmised that the umpires were looking for a reason to preserve the no-no.

Does he have a point? Would this same play produce the same call in a more relaxed ballgame without a no-hitter on the line?

We've discussed out-of-the-base-path plays many times; click through the various Related Post links that follow to read about several previous plays that also pertained to this rule.
Related PostMLB Ejection 047 - Nic Lentz (2; Clint Hurdle) (5/23/17).
Related PostMarlins File Doomed Protest Over Out of Base Path Call (6/14/16).
Related PostBaez Out of Base Path in Rare Runner's Lane Appearance (5/23/16).
Related PostWhose Call - Runner Out of Base Path Considerations (5/17/16).
Related PostMLB Ejection 133: Alan Porter (3; Mike Redmond) (7/23/14).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Analysis of Andrew Benintendi's Near Hit - Did Umpires Get it Right? (UEFL)


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