I’m not here to claim that anyone should feel sorry for the Tampa Bay Rays. While MLB would love to position them as the plucky underdog, what they really are is the model that almost every team owner has pointed to while yelling at their front office saying, “Why can’t we win that cheaply?!” while simultaneously trying to hold two cities hostage for a new stadium. So let’s square that away.
To reiterate my standing, the argument of “human element” when it comes to automatic strike zones has always been a steaming pile of dung. What it really means is that anyone arguing for it likes mistakes. They like missed calls.
What they think they’re arguing for, but aren’t, is the opportunity for umpires to make a logical call when it presents itself. That doesn’t apply to balls and strikes. Either it’s a strike or it’s not, even if the zone itself is kind of murkily defined. Umpires have been guessing at the zone ever since the game was invented, because it’s an imaginary plane five feet in front of them with a rock being hurled at them at ungodly speeds and angles.
And yes, at the base of last night’s play (above), when Kevin Kiermaier’s 12th-inning shot hit off the top of the short right-field wall at Fenway, hit right fielder Hunter Renfroe and ricoheted over the wall, it’s cut and dried, too. If a ball deflects off a fielder and into the stands like that one did, it’s a rulebook double.
Except that’s dumb, because why wouldn’t an outfielder just shovel the ball over the wall when he suspects a runner from first might score? As we saw with Yasmani Grandal in Game 3 for the White Sox against the Astros, umps aren’t exactly Sherlock when it comes to decoding intent.
Here was a time that the umps should have gotten to use common sense, to point out that Yandy Diaz would have scored walking backwards on that play, and give the Rays a run. Maybe they lose anyway in the bottom of the 13th, but at least no one would feel particularly aggrieved.
They’ll probably change this rule in the offseason, and we very well may never see it get put to use. There are only a few parks where a ball could even deflect like that out of the field of play off a player.
Then again, no sport has ever been proactive or visionary when it comes to changing rules that make no sense. I see you, tuck rule.