Despite what your dad, your Little League coach or a well-meaning, but poorly-informed bystander may have told you, if you want to understand what’s happening on a baseball field, once in a while you need to take your eye off the ball.
When a fly ball goes up, take your eye off the ball and watch the outfielder; his reaction will let you know if the ball has a chance of leaving the park.
When a pitcher attempts a pickoff in sacrifice bunt situation, take your eye off the ball and watch the hitter; he might start to square around and give away what he intends to do when a pitch is delivered to the plate.
And if you want to know if a ball is fair or foul, take your eye off the ball and watch the hitter.
In the top of the eighth inning in Sunday’s Royals-Rays game, Kendrys Morales came to the plate with runners at first and third and one down. The Rays had a 3-2 lead, but the Royals must have liked their chances; Kendrys is fourth in the American League when it comes to driving in runs.
Unfortunately, this was not Kendrys’ finest moment. The pitcher — Alex Colome — delivered an 84 mph changeup at the knees, down and away. This was a pitch designed to get a hitter to swing too soon, rollover and hit an easy groundball to the pull side of the field. Instead of waiting for a pitch up in the zone — a pitch that could be driven to the outfield — Kendrys swung at the changeup and hit the groundball the Rays were hoping for.
And never ran down to first base.
The hitter’s reaction tells you whether he thinks a ball is fair or foul; he’s looking right down the foul line and has the best view. I don’t doubt that some hitters are smart enough to try to mislead umpires by their reaction; you see guys pretend to foul a ball off their foot when it missed hitting them by six inches, but if Kendrys Morales was acting, he deserves an Academy Award. He stood at home plate looking like a guy waiting for a bus — or an umpire to get the call right.
Meanwhile, the Royals had a “contact” play on; in a first and third double play situation the runner on third base breaks for home on contact. Ben Zobrist did and the Rays first baseman — James Loney — threw him out at the plate. The Rays catcher, Rene Rivera, tagged Morales who was still standing at home plate and the Royals threat was suddenly over; inning-ending double play.
I actually have no clue whether that ball was fair or foul; I never saw a definitive angle. But unless Morales has taken acting lessons, it’s pretty clear he thought the ball was foul — that’s why Kendrys Morales didn’t run.
Did the right umpire make the call?
Monday morning I received this email from a reader:
Regarding the fair ball call yesterday, I’d always heard (not sure from whom) that the fair/foul call on grounders is the home plate umpire’s until the ball passes the base in question. On yesterday’s play, it sure looked like the first base umpire made the call and the home plate umpire deferred to him. Is that the way it looked to you? Is that consistent with the rule? Even though the TV angle wasn’t great, that was about the foulest ball I’ve ever seen called fair.
A brief internet search confirmed what I’ve long suspected: I don’t know a helluva lot about umpiring.
I’d heard the same thing the reader heard: on fair/foul calls the home plate umpire has the call until the ball passes first or third base. If so, the wrong umpire made the call. The first base umpire, Alan Porter was standing on the foul line which gave him an excellent view of first baseman James Loney’s back — not the best view for making the call.
Loney stepped into foul territory, then caught the ball. Where his foot was didn’t matter, the call is based on where Loney first made contact with the baseball. Porter signaled fair, home plate umpire Clint Fagan never made a call.
Monday morning I tried to find the right answer on the internet, looked through the baseball rulebook, tried to call a friend of mine who umpires and got nuthin’. I then sent a text to Jason Kendall — former Royals catcher — and got a text back saying the first base umpire makes the call and if he needs help, asks the home plate umpire.
I’m going to assume that’s right because I’m scared to death of Jason Kendall. If any of you think that’s wrong, come by the dugout before a game and I’ll introduce you to Jason and you can tell him he’s wrong.
And speaking of umpires’ calls
In the third inning of Saturday night’s game the Rays catcher, Rene Rivera, got hit by a Kris Medlen fastball. The count was 1-2 at the time. The ball hit Rivera in the arm first, then ricocheted up and caught him in the face.
Getting hit in the head with a baseball is every player’s nightmare. You can get injured in any number of ways while playing baseball, but a pitch to the head is the one injury that has a chance of killing you.
After Rivera got hit, everyone came running. The umpire signaled the Rays bench to get a trainer out there, Royals catcher Salvador Perez put a hand around Rivera’s waist and tried to comfort him, the Rays trainer and manager ran to home plate and everyone else stood around in shock.
But nobody asked if Rivera swung at the pitch.
Watch the replay and it’s clear Rivera started to swing: he had two strikes and was being aggressive about protecting the zone. After the ball hit Rivera, it appeared his bat went into the strike zone and could have been called strike three. If you swing at a pitch — even a pitch that hits you — that’s a strike.
I don’t know if asking the first base umpire for a ruling on a check swing didn’t occur to anybody or nobody wanted to be the jerk that said: “Yeah, we hit you with a pitch and, by the way, you’re out.”
On Tuesday, watch Johnny Cueto’s off-speed stuff
Next up, the Detroit Tigers will face Johnny Cueto on Tuesday. Watch Johnny’s breaking stuff, because that’s what’s been getting hit in his last two starts. If Cueto’s cutter and change are good, he’s got a better chance of having a good outing. Which is also true of every pitcher who throws a cutter and changeup.