Deflected Balls that Remain in Play (Part 3)
Deflected Batted Ball Strikes the Runner
Deflections make for knotty problems since they usually lead to right of way arguments. Whenever a batted ball is deflected off the pitcher or another infielder into the path of the runner, one of three things can happen:
The ball can remain alive and in play
The runner can be called for interference
A fielder can be charged with obstruction or defensive interference.
In the top of the fourth inning of the San Diego Padres- San Francisco Giants game on Aug. 13, 2010, the Padres had runners on first and third with two outs when San Diego’s Chris Denorfia hit a shot up the middle that deflected off Giants’ pitcher Jonathan Sanchez to the right side of the infield. Giants’ second baseman Freddy Sanchez initially took two steps toward second base to play the ball before he reacted to the deflection and scooted four or five steps to his left. Scott Hairston, the Padres’ runner on first, got in the way and hindered Sanchez as he was in the act of fielding the ball. The throw to first base was too late.
It appeared that the Padres had scored a run and had runners on first and second. But first base umpire Marvin Hudson ruled that Hairston had interfered with Sanchez and called him out. Because of the interference call, Chase Headley, the runner on third at the start of play, was not allowed to score and the inning ended. The play was ruled a fielder’s choice, second base unassisted.
Padres’ manager Bud Black argued that because the ball deflected off Jonathan Sanchez, Hairston should not be called for interference. Black said to MLB.com, “I don’t think Scotty impeded (Freddy) Sanchez’ s chance to make the play. I didn’t see any contact and once the ball was deflected, everybody changed direction, including Scotty and Freddy Sanchez. That changed the whole dynamic of the play.”
Black protested the game but it became a moot protest since the Padres won the contest, 3-2. And if the Padres had lost this game, the protest would not have been heard because the play involved a judgment call instead of a misinterpretation of a rule.
After viewing the video replay, I think Hudson properly protected Sanchez because he was in the act of fielding the ball and he had a legitimate play on the ball. Therefore, it was the responsibility of the runner (Hairston) to avoid the fielder. It is umpire judgment whether or not a fielder has a legitimate play on the ball. If the deflected ball was a sufficient distance from Sanchez and he had to chase the ball, then the standard changes. Common sense would dictate if a fielder after chasing a ball cannot make a legitimate play, he should no longer be protected. In that situation the fielder can be charged with obstruction or defensive interference if he impedes the progress of the runner (Hairston) because he was not actually making a play on the ball that is in his immediate reach.
Black’s comment that “Hairston did not make contact” has no bearing on the play since the act of interference by a runner does not require contact with a fielder or the ball. Offensive interference is defined as …”an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play.”
Under all playing codes, the runner must allow the fielder to make a play whether or not the ball was deflected (off a fielder or runner) as long as the fielder near the ball is in the act of fielding the ball or is in immediate reach of the ball and doesn’t have to chase it which is umpire judgment. (Pro 5.06 (c) (6) and section 21 of the 2018 Major League Baseball Umpire Manual; NCAA 8-5 d AR2). NFHS rules do not specifically address the issue but their interpretation of the rule is the same.
Runner Interference Turns into Obstruction or Defensive Interference
Let’s say the batter hits a hard grounder up the middle that deflects off the pitcher’s foot and goes towards the first base foul line. The pitcher chases the ball. The batter-runner correctly runs in his lane to first and both collide prior to getting to first base and both fall to the ground. The pitcher picks up the ball and throws the batter-runner out before he gets there. There was no intent on either player to initiate the contact. The base umpire called the batter-runner out. Was he correct?
I say no. If a deflected ball is within the fielder’s immediate reach, the runner must avoid the fielder or he risks getting called for runner interference. However, when a fielder chases a deflected ball and collides with a runner, obstruction or defensive interference should be called on the fielder. In the above play, obstruction should have been called on the pitcher because he impeded the progress of the batter-runner who should have been protected.
Runners Should Keep Running
Because runners think they are out when hit by batted balls, it’s common for a runner to quit on a play when he is struck by a batted ball that deflects off a fielder. When a batted ball is deflected off a fielder and the ball strikes the runner, the ball remains alive and in play and the runner should not quit on the play. Because the runner is often not aware of the deflection, he should be coached to always keep running until all continuous action has stopped when struck by a batted ball.
The Cincinnati Reds hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 19, 2008. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Paul Bako was batting with Joey Votto on first. Bako hit a shot that went off the glove of Dodgers’ first baseman James Loney and struck Votto, who was running from first to second. Fortunately for the Reds, Votto continued to run and the ball remained in play.
It’s a good idea for a runner to continue to advance to the next base after he is struck by a batted ball whether or not the ball is deflected. Let the umpires take care of it.
Pitched Ball Deflects off Batter
As of this writing, Shin-Soo Choo has had 6,370 plate appearances in his 14-year ML career. There are two he’ll never forget.
The Texas Rangers hosted the Kansas City Royals on May 24, 2018. Choo was batting in the bottom of the first with no outs and Delino DeShields on first base when a Danny Duffy pitch skipped off catcher Salvador Perez‘s glove and deflected off Choo‘s face. By rule, the ball remained in play. Perez picked up the ball and fired a rocket to Alcides Escobar at second base to retire DeShields.
One scribe wrote tongue-in-cheek, “That’s a 1-2-Choo-2-6 putout. I think.”
You can view this play by going to the link below
Or go to MLB.com, May 24, 2018, KC@TEX: “Perez gets carom off Choo’s face, nabs runner “
Catcher’s Throw Deflects off Batter’s Bat
Choo was involved in one of the quirkiest deflection plays in post season history. It occurred in the deciding Game Five of the 2015 ALDS played between the Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto. Choo was batting in the top of the seventh inning with Rougned Odor on third base when Jays’ catcher Russell Martin made a casual throw back to pitcher Aaron Sanchez. The ball ricocheted off Choo‘s bat and onto the field of play. Odor wisely kept running on the play and crossed the plate. That gave Texas a 3-2 lead.
Although the ball was in play, plate umpire Dale Scott incorrectly called “Time” after Martin’s throw struck Choo’s bat. Rangers’ manager Jeff Banister correctly argued that the ball should be alive and in play since there was no intent to interfere. After crew consultation and a crew chief review, it was determined that Scott had erred in calling “Time” and the run was allowed to score.
Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons wasn’t happy about the ruling and decided to play the rest of the game under protest which became a moot point since the Jays won the game.
To view this play, go to You Tube, TEX@TOR Game 5: Martin’s Throw Hits Bat, Odor Scores
The play is specifically covered in the 2018 Major League Baseball Umpire Manual in section 65 on page 47. It reads: “If the batter is standing in the batter’s box and he or his bat is struck by the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher (or throw in attempting to retire a runner) and, in the umpire’s judgment, there is no intent on the part of the batter to interfere with the throw, the ball is alive and in play.”
If Martin’s throw off Choo’s bat went into dead ball territory, all runners would advance two bases on the play, assuming there were other runners on the bases. It would be treated like any other throw by a fielder that ends up in DBT.
It would have been interesting if Odor had stopped running and returned to third base because Scott incorrectly called “Time.” In my opinion, Banister would have had a solid argument that Scott affected the actions of Odor by incorrectly calling “Time.” I think in that case the umpires would have to allow Odor to score.
If there’s a lesson to be learned here is that catchers need to be careful with runners on base when throwing to the pitcher. A casual throw can be dangerous especially when the third baseman is shifted toward shortstop as was Josh Donaldson was and there is no defense on the left side. Managers and coaches should be vigilant of catchers who make soft throws back to the pitcher for a variety of reasons.
Deflected Ball Strikes the Umpire
The Dayton Dragons (Reds) played the South Bend Cubs in a Class A Midwest League game in August of 2018. With a runner on first base, the batter hit a shot that deflected off the pitcher before striking the second base umpire. The ball then rolled to the shortstop near second base. The shortstop fielded the ball, stepped on second and threw to first for the odd 1-6-6-3 double play. Because the ball deflected off the pitcher before it hit the umpire, the ball remained in play. If there was no deflection and the batted ball had struck the second base ump, who was positioned in front of the infielders, this would be umpire interference. The ump would call “Time” and award the batter-runner first base. Other runners are awarded one base, only if forced.
Ball Deflects off Pitcher’s Forehead
Perhaps the weirdest deflection in baseball history occurred at Yankee Stadium where the New York Yankees hosted the Washington Senators on July 26, 1935. The Yankees had runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the second when Jesse Hill hit a liner that deflected off the head of Senators’ pitcher Ed Linke. The ball rebounded back to catcher Jack Redmond for the putout because the ball remained “in flight”. Redmond then fired to Red Kress at second base to double-up Ben Chapman.