I have three thoughts on Russell Martin’s throwing error in the top of the seventh, a baseball play that I’d never before seen in my life.
Let’s watch it again, though, because my goodness what a weird thing to happen.
1. The ultimate call was 100 percent correct. There is no specific rule covering what happened, but there is one that explicitly spells out the circumstances of the Blue Jays’ only defense against the run counting. Rule 6.03(a)(3) and its attached comment read:
A batter is out for illegal action when...He interferes with the catcher’s fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter’s box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher’s play at home base.
If the batter interferes with the catcher, the plate umpire shall call “interference.” The batter is out and the ball dead. No player may advance on such interference (offensive interference) and all runners must return to the last base that was, in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference.
Shin-Soo Choo was not interfering with Martin’s throw back to the plate. He was firmly in the batter’s box. Martin’s throw that struck Choo’s bat or hand was errant. The ball was live. This interpretation of the rule is explicitly confirmed in the Umpires’ Manual.
(Eno Sarris makes the great point that Choo was only in the batter’s box because of MLB’s new rules on speeding up the game, one of which requires players to stay in the box after taking a pitch. If this had been last year, Choo would have stepped out of the box to adjust his batting gloves and none of this would have happened.)
When home plate umpire and crew chief Dale Scott called time, he was wrong. He admitted as much.
“That was my mistake,” Scott said. “I was mixing up two rules and I called time, but then it started clicking. I went, wait a minute, wait a minute, there’s no intent on the hitter. He’s in the box, the bat’s in the box. So to make sure I’m on the right page, I got everybody together and that’s what we had. If there’s no intent, if he’s not out of the box, that throw’s live.”
The Blue Jays’ other defense was that because the umpire called time before Rougned Odor came in to score, the play should have been dead. But umpires award bases on dead balls all the time, when it’s obvious that the runner would have reached it without a fuss.
The umpires did the right thing and called the MLB command center for a rules check. It wasn’t popular in Toronto, but they came back with the right ruling. I wish it hadn’t required an 18-minute delay, but part of that is on the fans who chucked beers onto the field in protest.
2. Rangers manager Jeff Banister deserves all the credit in the world for immediately knowing that the ball should have been live and Odor granted home plate. He may have been the only person the ballpark who was certain of it, because the same play happened to him when he was a minor-league catcher. “I’ve been involved in that play before,” he said.
Banister came right out of the dugout to argue. Would the umpires have called New York for a rules check if he hadn’t? I don’t know. (I do know that there’s no way in the world Ron Washington would have known this rule.)
Banister deflected the credit to Odor: “How about my guy being heads-up and scoring on the play and not keeping his head down?
3. It’ll be somewhat forgotten because of everything that happened after, but the crowd’s reaction to the call was ugly. Beer and debris raining from the upper deck, onto the field and onto the fans below. There were reported minor injuries, and a team executive said that 39 people were ejected.
There was at least one arrest, of a man accused of throwing beer on a baby. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he was almost struck by a beer can. Banister was specifically targeted with a thrown object by a fan sitting near the Rangers dugout. Umpires were reportedly close to ordering both teams off the field until order could be restored.
I don’t know how MLB stops this from happening. (I don’t know that it can, given that this thing happens from time to time, the most recent notable instance being Braves fans littering the field after a disputed infield fly rule call in the 2012 playoffs.) But throwing shit on the field is unacceptable, and what makes this one even worse is that in all the previous instances I can remember, fans were upset over questionable judgment calls. There was no room for interpretation here: some Blue Jays fans acted like rioters because they didn’t know the rules.