Oakland A’s fans got our first look at Nick Allen on Tuesday, as the exciting prospect made his MLB debut against the Baltimore Orioles. Allen is billed as a defensive wizard, one of the best shortstop talents we’ve ever seen, though this first appearance came at second base.
The fielding chances that came his way were mostly routine, though even those allowed us to appreciate his smooth actions and strong arm. But one play in particular offered a peek at the instincts and quick thinking that help set him apart beyond his phenomenal physical tools.
In the 2nd inning, with a runner on first base and nobody out, Robinson Chirinos hit a soft liner up the middle. Allen had plenty of time to set himself up for the easy catch, but instead he saw an opportunity for more. There was a force right in front of him at second base, and a slow catcher lumbering out of the batter’s box toward first base, and that meant a potential double play.
Rather than securing the ball, Allen used his glove to gently guide it to the ground, where he quickly scooped it back up and flipped it a few feet away to shortstop Elvis Andrus covering the bag. At that point, Chirinos was still 30 feet away from first base. Click here to watch the play.
This scheme would certainly have worked, with plenty of time to complete the double play, except the umpire called it off before Andrus even had the chance to make his throw. Chirinos was out and the runner stayed at first. The ump made the correct call, per Rule 5.09(a)(12):
A batter is out when: An infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases.
It was clear that Allen let it fall out of his glove on purpose, and it turns out you can’t do that.
There actually is a way he could have pulled this off. With just the one runner on base, the Infield Fly Rule was not in effect, so if the ball had dropped to the ground untouched then it would have been live and Allen could have fielded the hop and gone for the double play. This clarification is made in an addendum to Rule 5.09(a)(12):
In this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the Infield Fly rule applies.
Of course, this version would bring extra risk. Using his glove like he did gave the ball a gentle and controlled landing at his feet, whereas letting it bounce on the turf at full speed opens up the possibility of a bad hop that messes up the whole plan. None of this is an endorsement that Allen should have let Chirinos’ hit drop untouched, and indeed it wouldn’t have been a good idea in this specific case given the angle of trajectory, but for future reference that’s how you would legally make this sneaky double play if you wanted.
It didn’t work, but it also didn’t cost anything, and it was a fun introduction to what we can expect from Allen on defense. He’ll make all the plays he’s supposed to, and maybe some you hadn’t even thought of before. It only took two innings into his MLB debut for the rookie to show off some veteran savvy, complete with a mischievous grin afterward.