Thursday, May 23, 2024

White Sox Lose After Infield Fly Interference Double Play

Chicago's comeback against Baltimore came up short when 3B Umpire Junior Valentine called White Sox baserunner Andrew Vaughn for interference during batter Andrew Benintendi's pop up for a rare INT-infield fly rule double play to end the game. Pedro Grifol argued, as did Chicago's broadcasters, but to no avail...although unpleasant to end the game, Valentine's call was correct.

With one out and runners on first and second base in the bottom of the 9th inning of an 8-6 (Orioles) ballgame, Chicago batter Benintendi hit a 0-1 fastball from Orioles pitcher Craig Kimbrel high on the infield, resulting in umpires declaring an infield fly. As Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson jogged in to make a play on the fly ball, White Sox runner R2 Vaughn casually backed toward the fielder, creating a situation in which Henderson was forced to go around Vaughn to field the batted ball.

By rule, this is interference, which is what 3B Umpire Valentine called. Recall that during a batted ball, the fielder has the right to field it (one protected fielder per play), but at any other time, the runner has the right to run unencumbered (unless the fielder possesses the baseball or must occupy the space while in the act of fielding).

The rules citation is Official Baseball Rule 6.01(a)(10) ("Any runner is out when—they fail to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, or intentionally interfere with a thrown ball").

Interference during an infield fly throws a peculiar wrench into the affairs, which creates a dead ball that results in a double play, as long as the infield fly is fair. OBR's definition for Infield Fly specifies that: "If interference is called during an Infield Fly, the ball remains alive until it is determined whether the ball is fair or foul. If fair, both the runner who interfered with the fielder and the batter are out. If foul, even if caught, the runner is out and the batter returns to bat."

Accordingly, umpires declared runner Vaughn out for interfering with Henderson (remember, interference's standard is hinder or impede; there is NO contact requirement) and, as the ball became dead at the moment of interference relative to everything except determining fair/foul, there is no question of "wasn't Henderson going to catch it anyway?" When a dead ball occurs, no further action—including fielders recording outs—can take place.

The penalty for interference is to declare the runner out and the batter is also declared out, due to the infield fly (fair ball).


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