You know when you zone out at a stoplight, and then you suddenly sense traffic moving around you, and so you accelerate a little too quickly, but it turns out you don’t have a green light, it’s the turn lane next to you that has a green arrow, and so you have to stomp the brakes like a shithead, but now you’re like eight yards out into the intersection and everyone in every direction is looking at you? That was Matt Holliday on first base in the top of the 11th last night.
One way of getting yourself all fucked up thinking about the bizarre sequence that led to the Red Sox playing out the remainder of last night’s loss under protest is to start with what Holliday had to say about it, and work backwards from there. Holliday is quoted by ESPN as having said “I wasn’t going to run into a tag.” Here’s the play:
Okay. So. Holliday worked a four-pitch walk from Red Sox reliever Heath Hembree to open the top of the 11th. Six pitches later, with Holliday still on first, Jacoby Ellsbury slapped a chopper toward first base, where it was fielded cleanly a couple yards in front of the bag by Red Sox first-baseman Mitch Moreland. A double-play ball! With a clean throw to second, Holliday is out. This was a matter of procedure. In this instance, as with all tailor-made double play grounders in the post-takeout-slide era, the runner on first ceases to be a participant in the play, and becomes a data point. This is the nature of force outs.
Except! In this instance, Matt Holliday, umm, “wasn’t going to run into a tag.” Leaving aside that, in this instance, Matt Holliday definitely wasn’t going to run into a tag in either direction, the only circumstance in which a tag would be a consideration would be one in which the Red Sox had the “reverse force double play,” where the first baseman forces out the batter at first before making a throw to second, thereby removing the force out at second, and necessitating a tag. Since the ball was, after all, hit to first, maybe Holliday thought the reverse force was on?
Holliday was looking directly at Moreland when Moreland loaded up to throw to second, and Moreland is at the very inside edge of the infield dirt—there is no way in hell Holliday could possibly have thought Moreland had already touched first base, right? Unless Mitch Moreland is, in fact, Inspector Gadget, there is no way he fielded the ball and touched first, and then threw to second base from the edge of the infield grass.
It’s also incredibly unlikely that Holliday had a whole lot else going on in his mind, certainly not anything like if I head back to first right now and slide in there, I might obstruct the throw and get away with it and Ellsbury will be safe at first. His mind—certainly more finely tuned to the rhythms of baseball than mine is to anything at all—just blew a fuse or something, and instead of trotting into a force out, he retreated from it, wildly, in a foolish panic. The funniest part of this sequence was Holliday jumping up like a prairie dog when the ball ricocheted away, and loping off to second. He really did seem to think Moreland forced out Ellsbury before throwing to second, and he, Matt Holliday, had made a heads-up baserunning play that gained his team a runner in scoring position! By god, I was not going to run into a tag.
He was, of course, out. The umpires convened and made Ellsbury safe at first, ruling that Holliday’s confusion did not constitute interference. The Red Sox played the rest of the game under protest, and lost, but ESPN says the league is unlikely to give the protest a whole lot of consideration:
As for the Red Sox’s protest, it is in the hands of Major League Baseball to determine whether the call was incorrect. But league rules also stipulate that a game will not be replayed “unless it is also determined that the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning.”
The sequence is ultimately meaningless, but the Red Sox are right to wonder how a player who was forced out at second can slide back into first in a way that obstructs an infielder without being guilty of interference. And the rest of us are right to wonder what exactly Matt Holliday was even doing out there.