October 5, 2012 – What Just Happened


There is nothing like a little bit of controversy to add more anxiety to an already stressful elimination game.

With two outs in a scoreless, second inning, Atlanta catcher, David Ross,  asked for time while batting. We don’t know exactly when he did so, but the home plate umpire granted that well after Kyle Lohse was into his delivery.  Lohse made the pitch and Ross swung and missed.  That would have ended the inning, but it didn’t count.  Lohse’s next pitch was hit deep into the outfield seats for a 2-0 Braves lead.  That did not thrill Cardinals fans watching the game.

At the time, that call appeared to be significant, but a three run rally in the fourth put the Cardinals in front, and the Kellogg call a distant memory.

As it turns out, the real controversy would come in the eighth inning.  With one out, and trailing 6-3, the Braves had runners on first and second base.  Shortstop Andrelton Simmons hits a fly ball to left field.  What happens next is very important, so let’s take this slowly.

At first, Cardinals left fielder, Matt Holliday, comes in to make the catch.   The left field umpire, Sam Holbrook is watching Holliday (correction: he’s actually watching the trajectory of the ball and turns to the fielders once it has started coming down).   So far so good, this looks like a routine fly out.

Then, Cardinals shortstop, Pete Kozma, calls off Holliday, thinking he has a better line on the fly ball.   Holbrook looks at Kozma and makes the judgement that either he or Holliday would reasonably catch the ball and raises his arm, indicating an Infield Fly Rule is in effect.  Kozma then stops and the ball drops harmlessly in between the two.

Let’s now take a look at the official rules of baseball, specifically Rule 2.00 – Definition of Terms.   You can find a copy for your own reading here.

An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted
bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.

When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall
immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the
baselines, the umpire shall declare “Infield Fly, if Fair.”

The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or
retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit
becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul.

If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces
foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls
untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly.

In addition to the rule, there is also a comment to help guide the umpires, should an unusual set of circumstances arise.

On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder—not by some arbitrary limitation such as the
grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder.

The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.

When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05(l). The infield fly rule takes precedence.

So let’s apply some of this and see where we get.   I hope that you will see the umpires got this one right.

The obvious stuff – there were runners at first and second and less than two outs.   The ball in question was a fly ball, in fair territory, and not a line drive or a bunted ball.  So far, so good ?

Here’s where it gets tricky.   The infield fly was not called initially, because Pete Kozma was not initially in the play.   The instant he called off Matt Holliday, and positioned himself under the baseball during the downward portion of its trajectory, it tripped this part of the rule guidance.

On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder—not by some arbitrary limitation such as the
grass, or the base lines.

What some of the Braves fans in at the game did not understand, and apparently some more on Twitter, it is not where the catch is made, but who makes the catch.  But not so fast, because this unusual play also triggers this next part

The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder.

This is really the case where an outfielder is playing shallow, and comes up on an infielder.  But ….. the earlier guidance broadens this to any place on the field where an infielder is judged to have been able to reasonably made the play.  That is a huge area.

Applying that to our play in question, it is perfectly reasonable for Sam Holbrook to have thought either Kozma or Holliday makes that catch.  Holliday actually had the better position, but that doesn’t matter.  Once Kozma placed himself under the ball in a position to make the catch, the infield fly call should be made.   Contrary to popular belief, it does not matter where the catch is made, or wasn’t in this case.

As for the question of the lateness of the call, it didn’t become an infield fly rule until Pete Kozma put himself into the play.  If you watch the replay closely, once Kozma yells and waves his arms, Holbrook immediately made the call.  That satisfies

When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall
immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners.

And here is the final piece that should end all discussion:

The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.

As with every call an umpire makes, you can choose to question the umpire’s judgement.   What you can’t do is question the sequence of events that took place after the call.  That was all by the book.  Somebody should have supplied a copy of the MLB rules to the TBS broadcasters who missed many key points of this fascinating rule.

btw: camped out is nowhere to be found anywhere in the rules.

The original intent of the rule was to prevent infielder deception on a play, thus manipulating either the number of outs in the inning or the position or makeup of the remaining base runners.  That is consistent with some of the other rules, but the umpire is not required to make that type of judgement in this case.  All that matters is the runner positioning, the number of outs, the trajectory of the batted ball and the umpires judgement that either an infielder is in position to made that catch.   Jokes about Matt Holliday and routine catches are funny, but not applicable here.

I hope this clarifies this particular play.   I know that many of us have been critical of the umpires this season, and often it was for good reason.  This time they appear to have gotten it right.

Here is a link to the Harold Reynolds explanation of the play.

To close the book on this play, Fredi Gonzalez did file a protest with the umpires.  The league office ruled immediately and denied the protest.  The game score stands.  The Cardinals won the Wild Card elimination game, 6-3.

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10 Responses to October 5, 2012 – What Just Happened

  1. Chris says:

    Blown call. If the play could was ‘ordinary’ as the rule requires then why does the ump have to wait until the very last second to make the call? Obvious answer, it was anything but ordinary about an infielder handling that fly.

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    • I completely disagree. Once Kozma inserted himself in the play, it changed from a routine fly ball to left into the territory of the infield fly rule. The rule and guidance are very clear that the location of the play does not matter. All that matters is that, in the umpire’s judgement, could an infielder have made the catch. At the time Sam Holbrook raised his right hand, it certainly looked as if Kozma was going to catch it. It did happen quickly, but the long range camera angle showing Holbrook, Kozma and Holliday shows the sequence of events as I tried to describe.

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  2. Thanks for making things clearer Bob, I can always count on you to tell it like it is. I was one of those clueless as to exactly what the rule said.

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    • Thanks, Gina. I hope you get a chance to see Harold Reynolds’ explanation on the MLB Network as he does a great job (adding the perspective of playing the infield in the major leagues). His graphics break the play down way better than I did! The confusion here is that a lot of people think they understand the rule, but have probably not read it. I will admit to being in that group, believing it was initially a bad call 🙂 That’s why I went to the actual rule (2.00) and read it several times before commenting.

      What did we do before we could download the rules and discuss this stuff in real time ?

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  3. John Lowe III says:

    Chris is right…It was not an “ordinary” pop fly on the infield, which is what the rule is about. Kozma going out for it doesn’t change the position of the ball, and doesn’t make it an ordinary, and therefor “easy” pop fly to catch. In fact, it dropped, so obviously it wasn’t an easy out. If Kozma or Holiday had made the catch, they were not in position to get two force outs (the runners were surely going part way down the line, then waiting to see if they caught it.
    Love the Birds, but we got a big break. But those things happen. The “strikeout” before the Braves two-run homerun was a huge break for them. And Craig may have gotten his foot to the base on the close play….etc.

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    • Sorry, John. With all due respect, you are wrong. You are reading things in to the rule that are simply not there. In fact, one of your assumptions is in direct conflict with the wording in the guidance comments. The play does not have to happen on the infield, but within the area in which an infielder can make the play. You are correct, the rule was added to prevent an infielder (specifically) from using deception to manipulate the number of outs or the position or makeup of the base runners. That doesn’t matter as the rule clearly states, without ambiguity, all the tests for the rule, and they are simple.

      This is where “ordinary” comes in and both you and Chris are misapplying that as well. It’s not the play that is ordinary, but the judgement of whether the infielder can make that play in any ordinary circumstance. Once Komza turned around and started making his fine adjustments to the downward arc of the ball, that satisfied that part of the rule. It doesn’t matter if he and Matt Holliday have communication issues, run into each other, a meteor strikes the earth, or there is a zombie invasion. He wasn’t on the dead run to the ball, wasn’t diving, didn’t fall on wet turf. He positioned himself under the ball and in control, even if just for an instant. For the batter, the play ended right there. What happens next, even though it happened quickly, is only relevant to the baserunners. Had either Holliday or Kozma touched the ball, the runners would have to retouch their original bases. Since that didn’t happen, the live ball rule applies and they can advance, at their own risk, without tagging up.

      Once Sam Holbrook’s right arm went up, the infield fly rule went into effect. From that instant, it doesn’t matter what happens to Kozma or Holliday. The call is not subject to appeal either.

      I did go back and add a sentence (in bold) to the original posting to clarify some of this.

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  4. Hey Bob, Nice stuff..the ruling was shaky at best but the fact that the wording of the IFFR allows for a wide interpretation and is a “judgement” call should render much of the controversy “moot” and BTW ..Red Sox OF/DH “Cody” Ross was probably out playing golf when Atlanta back up catcher “David” Ross “struck out”/ Homered in the 2nd inning… LOL

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  5. Well done…thanks for the explanation! I was at the game and at first thought the braves had a legit gripe and the ump made a bad call. Thanks for educating me. Check out my Redbirds of a Feather podcast on iTunes or follow me on twitter as I post the link every week. I’m @redbirdpodcast on twitter and I also blog ever Fri and Sat at Redbirdrants.com

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  6. John Lowe III says:

    Y’all are drinking the Cardinal kool-aid, trying to justify a bad call. The purpose of the rule is to prevent a defensive player from intentionally letting a pop fly drop, with men on 1st and 2nd or the bases loaded, to get a double play. That ball was too deep for that to happpen. Kozma was never under the ball, ready to make an “ordinary” catch. To catch it, he would have had to go back further, that’s why it dropped behind him.
    Yes, it could involve an outfielder, on a very high pop-up, if he came way in, close enough to the infield to make a double play by dropping it. That would be very rare — in fact, has anyone, anywhere, ever heard of it happening? I haven’t.
    You’re tryiing to take a baseball rule and make a literal interpretation — that doesn’t work well. Many of those rules are not well written. For example, the balk rule says it is a balk if the pitcher deceives the runner. Duh! The pickoff move is clearly to deceive the runner. The application of the rule is to describe what the pitcher cannot do….that’s the important part. If taken literally, any pickoff throw would be a balk. More obviously, the ole fake to third and turn and throw to first, clearly tries to deceive the runners…..but it’s not a balk unless he breaks one of the actual ways a balk is called.
    I’m especially interested in the Kozma play, because a nearly identical play occurred when I was playing. The SS couldn’t get to a pop fly between and behind the 3rd baseman and SS, but the umpire called it an infield fly, and the batter out. All hell broke loose, and prompted a thorough review of the rule.
    If the Kozma play had been with the Braves in the field, and their SS, I think many of you would have been irate, and found a different interpretation of the rule.
    It seems clear that the NL wanted to rule in favor of the call — to support the umpire, to move the post-season along, and avoid the controversies that would have emerged otherwise (e.g., the Cardinals used Boggs and Motte….that might have hurt them the next day, to go back and finish the game, from the point of the protest….and the travel, etc. would have been challenging).
    But go Cards….let’s get the second game with the Nats, and get back in the hunt.
    Incidentally, the carnival atmosphere several hours before the Sunday game, was incredible…..this is a great baseball town….worth driving from Ohio to see it. (Growing up near St. Louis, one never really leaves the Redbirds.)

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