Sunday, October 10, 2021

Rays Lose Run, Game After Batted Ball Deflection Rule

Tampa Bay lost a run, then the game, in the 13th inning against Boston during Game 3 of the Rays-Red Sox ALDS when batter Kevin Kiermaier's fly ball to left-center field deflected off BoSox outfielder Hunter Renfroe and over the wall. Did umpires get the call right, by rule? Especially given that Rays baserunner R1 Yandy Diaz appeared poised to score as the ball left the playing field on the deflection...

To recap, with two out and one on (R1) in the top of the 13th, Rays batter Kiermaier hit a 3-2 slider from Red Sox pitcher Nick Pavetta to deep right-center field, where the batted ball hit the outfield wall and then the dirt warning track before bouncing into outfielder Renfroe, after which the ball deflected over the wall and out of play. Initially ruled a two-base award by RF Umpire DJ Reyburn, Crew Chief Sam Holbrook signaled affirmation of the call following a Replay Review.

The relevant rule is Official Baseball Rule 5.06(b)(4)(H) and its corresponding MLB Umpire Manual Interpretation, which describes this precise scenario: "If a fair ball not in flight is deflected by a fielder and then goes out of play, the award is two bases from the time of the pitch."

There you have it: it's a two-base award from time of pitch ("TOP")—no umpire discretion as to runner placement. As soon as the umpires determine the fair ball not in flight was deflected by a fielder out of play, the award must be two bases from TOP—R1 Diaz to third and BR Kiermaier to second. Tough break for Tampa Bay (especially when Boston's Christian Vazquez hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the frame).

A somewhat (but not exactly) similar play occurred at Fenway Park at the same short outfield wall in front of the left field bullpen back in 2019 as Boston defeated Cleveland. During that game, Boston batter JD Martinez hit a fly ball that first struck the wall before rebounding onto Indians outfielder Oscar Mercado, then deflecting out of play into the fair-territory bullpen.

And, for good measure, in July 2019, Rays left fielder Tommy Pham deflected Blue Jays batter Freddy Galvis' not-in-flight fly ball into the stands, resulting in a two bases-from-TOP award. The rule, which oddly enough affected both Boston and Tampa Bay in 2019, continues to prescribe a two-base award without further runner placement consideration.


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