Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Ask UEFL - Runner's Lane INT No-Call in STL

When Cardinals pitcher Genesis Cabrera fielded Nationals batter Adam Eaton's weak ground ball up the first base line, his throw to first base hit Eaton in the back as HP Umpire Jim Wolf considered whether to invoke runner's lane interference Rule 5.09(a)(11).

This Ask the UEFL analysis is an exercise in the four criteria umpires should weigh in determining whether or not to call runner's lane interference (RLI) when a batter-runner going to first base potentially impedes the defense's ability to record an out.

Rule: To recap, Official Baseball Rule 5.09(a)(11) states that any runner 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; except that he may run outside (to the right of ) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of ) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball."

Four Criteria: The shortcut for umpires in taking the rulebook and applying words and sentences to a real-life, on-field situation is to consider whether or not four criteria have been satisfied. They are:

1) Is the ball being fielded to first base? For instance, yes, the St. Louis play was going to first base.
2) Is the batter-runner not within the lane? Yes, Eaton has both feet to the left of the line prematurely.*
3) Does BR hinder/impede the fielder taking the throw at first base? Yes, the ball hits Eaton's back.
4) Could the throw reasonably retire the runner? Maybe...this is the toughest litmus test of the bunch.

The runner is clearly not within the lane.
*A runner is permitted to exit the lane during the final step/stride to first base, but this exemption does not apply to a runner who has prematurely exited the lane (or never entered the lane whatsoever; that is a Jim Evans interpretation since adopted).

Analysis & Gil's Call: On first glance from the press box camera angle, I had runner's lane interference—largely because of criterion two: Eaton was plainly not within the lane. Yet the more I watched this play on replay, the more I questioned whether the throw could have reasonably retired the runner—not just whether the throw is true per se, but whether it could have "reasonably retired the runner" (that is a Wendelstedt interpretation).
Related PostRunning Lane Interference and Advancing to 1st Base (9/6/15).

RLI falls within a plate umpire's domain.
Was the quality of Cabrera's throw such that the ball was sailing into foul territory? Would the runner have beat the play regardless of where the throw did or did not wind up?

In the end, fittingly enough, I'm missing a conclusive camera angle, one that would have solved the former of my two questions and turned the tide of my opinion on the matter.

That camera angle just happens to coincide with precisely where Wolf was standing: a point behind the runner within the runner's lane extended back toward home plate—which also confirms exactly why umpiring mechanics routinely designate RLI for the plate umpire and not the first base umpire (e.g., U1 John Tumpane has other things to worry about in this situation, such as an actual out/safe call [timing/tag] at first base).

Call Stands, you mileage may vary | Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Analysis of a potential OBR 5.09(a)(11) RLI play at Busch (CCS)


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