Sorry Yu, but Papi’s Fly Ball in the Seventh Should Have Been Scored a Hit

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Texas RangersYu Darvish’s bid for a perfect game against the defending champion Boston Red Sox ended in the seventh inning last night. So too should have his bid for a no hitter.

All we’ve been hearing about last night and today is how Darvish was one out away from pitching his first no-hitter. And while technically true, I feel no real sympathy for Darvish having come so close because he was only in that position thanks to a very questionable – and in my opinion wrong – scoring decision by the home team.

Before I discuss further, one disclaimer: I don’t intend to take anything away from Darvish’s performance. He was dazzling. Dominant. Nothing short of spectacular. The eight and two-third shutout innings are proof enough of that.

My point is only this: he should not have even been in a position to go for the no-hitter in that ninth inning.

Darvish had thrown 6.2 perfect innings before Red Sox DH David Ortiz came to the plate. Here’s what happened next.

It took several minute before the official scorer decided to rule the play an error on right fielder Alex Rios instead of a base hit for Ortiz. He based his decision on MLB Rule 10.12, which provides as follows:

(a) The official scorer shall charge an error against any fielder:
(1) whose misplay (fumble, muff or wild throw) prolongs the time at bat of a batter, prolongs the presence on the bases of a runner or permits a runner to advance one or more bases, unless, in the judgment of the official scorer, such fielder deliberately permits a foul fly to fall safe with a runner on third base before two are out in order that the runner on third shall not score after the catch;

It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error. If a ground ball goes through a fielder’s legs or a fly ball falls untouched and, in the scorer’s judgment, the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, the official scorer shall charge such fielder with an error.

The official scorer shall charge an outfielder with an error if such outfielder allows a fly ball to drop to the ground if, in the official scorer’s judgment, an outfielder at that position making ordinary effort would have caught such fly ball.

I don’t necessarily blame the official scorer for making a ruling that favors his team. That’s the perks of playing at home. I just think his decision bastardized the rule in a way that is completely contrary to how the game of baseball has been played and scored throughout its history.

Ten times out of 10, in a non-no-hitter situation, a ball that falls between two outfielders is scored a hit. It should be scored the exact same regardless of the potential history riding on the play. Without consistency, the integrity of the game itself is jeopardized.

Those supporting the official scorer’s position have argued that a Major League right fielder should be able to make that play with ordinary effort. It’s true that Ortiz’s pop fly was an out that should have been made. But just because a play should be made doesn’t not mean that the failure to make it constitutes an error.

The language of Rule 10.12 clearly states that a ball does not have to touch the fielder’s glove to be considered an error. And we’ve seen several examples where a ball has rolled between the legs or under the glove of a fielder and been scored an error. Rightfully so.

However, pursuant to the language of the rule, the fielder must have been capable of handling the ball with ordinary effort for an error to be warranted.

If you re-watch the video above, Rios was not standing in a position where he could handle the baseball with ordinary effort. He was several feet too far behind the ball, and to even get a glove on it would have required a diving or some other extraordinary effort. Second baseman Rougned Order was not in position to handle the ball either. He begins the play drifting to his right, before changing directions to drift to his left at the last minute. He attempts to make a leaping stab at the ball as it fell to the ground, but still wound up about a foot short of being able to put his glove on it.

This is an example of a clear miscommunication between Odor and Rios. Rios should have taken charge and should have called Odor off and made the easy, routine catch. However, that didn’t happen, and neither player was in a position in which they could have handled the baseball with ordinary effort. That makes Ortiz’s fly a base hit. Period.

If you stand for the proposition that the play should have been made, and therefore it should be called an error, where do you draw the line? What if a player misjudges the ball and starts running back toward the fence before changing directions and sprinting forward only to see the ball land a couple of feet in front of him? That would be an error based on this logic, because a big league fielder should have read the ball properly, broken in on the ball and made the routine play. However, I doubt you’d find anyone willing to argue such a play should be ruled an error.

What if a player loses the ball in the lights, or never sees it off the bat? What if the fielder never moves and the ball falls to the ground several feet away? Is that, too an error? The average Major Leaguer would be able to shield the lights or pick the ball up, and would have made an easy catch on the play, but again, no one would argue that’s an error.

The reason is simple. In those cases, the fielder was never in a position to make a play on the ball. Sure, that was due to his own mistake or mishap, but regardless he was not capable of handling the ball. The same is of Rios and Odor true on the Ortiz fly.

I know we often simplify the rule, claiming that if a fly ball doesn’t touch a player’s glove it should be ruled a hit. And I acknowledge that’s the wrong interpretation of the rule. However, due to the skill and talent of players at the big league level, it’s a rarity that they are in a position to handle the ball and don’t – at a minimum – get some piece of leather on the baseball. That’s where the distinction has originated. It’s just so uncommon to see an error situation where an attempt does not at least result in some glove-on-baseball contact.

In the end, the baseball gods came to the rescue, warding off the injustice that would have been a no-hitter in this case. And poetically enough, it was Ortiz in the ninth inning whose two-out single put to bed the no-hit bid.

I am thankful for the controversy though. It provided the single greatest night of MLB Tonight programming in history, as Harold Reynolds – who thought the seventh inning fly was a hit – vehemently battled Mitch Williams – who thought it was correctly scored an error – all night long.

We also got Big Papi’s take. No surprise, he sided with Reynolds.


About Matthew George

Matthew George graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2008 with a bachelor of science in journalism. He spent three years writing sports for the Kentucky Kernel, the university's daily paper, and served as assistant sports editor. After undergrad, Matthew attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University where he earned his juris doctorate. He is now admitted to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.

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