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Sunday ALDS: A Day Of “Right Call, Bad Rule”

MLB: ALDS-Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox
“I’m not taking this play for granite.”
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox-Rays ALDS game 3 was “one for the ages,” a game you can enjoy immensely as a fan of neither team. Kind of like the 2014 Wild Car— nope, not ready to talk about it yet. After twisting for 12 innings, the game turned on a play you can watch baseball for 50 years and never see (trust me): A ball launched by Kevin Kiermeier that caromed off the outfield wall, then off of right fielder Hunter Renfroe’s leg and up over the wall out of play.

The umpires correctly ruled it a “ground rule double” and awarded Yandy Diaz, who was running from 1B on the pitch, only 2 bases. There was really only one way Diaz could possibly fail to score on that play and somehow the universe found it.

“Intent” was clear on that play: Renfroe had none. No one would argue that Renfroe tried to guide the ball out of play — in fact he ill-advisedly tried to catch it as it headed over the wall, which had he succeeded would have cost Boston a run.

The rule, as written, rewards the clumsy even though they are not even a group protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. There is no question Kiermeier was going to have no less than a double, possibly a triple, and that Diaz was going to score from 1B. In other situations it might not be as clear that the runner would score from 1B, but certainly he is going to advance “either to 3B or home”. So the rule as written offers the most conservative advance possible — 2 bases for each — thereby rewarding the clumsy fielder and punishing the batter and runner.

If it isn’t going to be a “ground rule triple,” at the very least it should be a “ground rule double, all runners score”. What the Rays experienced in the top of the 13th was worthy of an A’s post-season moment, where the “you’ll never see that again in a million years” and a weirdly written rule collide.

Later in the evening comes a batted ball in the White Sox-Astros game 3, starring Yasmani Grandahl as a hard working catcher with a shaky sense of direction. With runners at the corners, Grandahl bounces one to 1B and takes off running vaguely towards first base seemingly with an impending stop-over at the mound.

As Yulieski Gurriel fields the ball, Grandahl is a good 10 feet into fair territory having more than ‘socially distanced’ with the runner’s box. Gurriel’s throw the plate is right on target, assuming that the target is Grandahl’s elbow. Next thing you know, an out at the plate has turned into a throw caroming into foul territory and no out recorded as a run scores. Tom Hallion would most definitely have called Luis Robert safe at the plate had he not been low bridged by Robert’s slide.

Strangely, the rule book makes no demands of the batter running up the 1B line if he is not hit by a throw to 1B. On a throw to the plate, apparently Grandahl is no longer a batter running to 1B so much as he is “some guy hanging out on the grass ignoring the ‘watch out for flying objects’ sign”.

Presumably, Grandahl “established his base line” wherever the heck he felt like establishing it, and then just needed to stay within 3 feet of it. I guess that means on a sac fly ball to short RF you could run to 1B well on the grass right in the line of the RFer’s throw, zig-zagging a foot to the left and right alternately and daring the RFer to figure out how to throw around you.

Runners are supposed to be made to run in the spots designated for running, with no more than 3 feet of leeway, and they are supposed to be responsible for not getting hit by balls when they are not even in a base path. Neither was the case with Grandahl and yet by the rule book the umpires correctly decided, “Well no he shouldn’t really have been there, but he was so ... bummer, huh?”

Both calls were key in their games at the times, both were called correctly by the umpires, and both make little sense. And both are reminders that the A’s don’t actually have the market cornered on “weird post-season plays,” even if it seems that way.