The first ever MLB Wild Card game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves on Friday night proved to be a contentious affair after an eighth inning invocation of the infield fly rule left the Braves with two on and two out instead of the bases loaded and one out, as they believed ought to be the case. At the time the Cardinals were leading 6-3 and the rally appeared to be the Braves’ best–and possibly last–chance to get back into the game. An 18 minute delay ensued as the Braves talked with the umpires and the fans showered the outfield with debris. The Cardinals went on to win and the discussion about whether or not the umpires got the call correct has carried on almost unabated since.
Michael: At first glance, I thought the Braves got screwed on the play. After reviewing the Infield Fly rule I still believe they got screwed. First off, the umpire did not make the call when the ball was in flight, he made it just before the ball hit the ground. Secondly, Pete Kozma was by no means camped under the ball and if you think he was, then we have a completely different definition of the word camped. At no point was he ever still in position to make the play. He ran back, paused because he thought Matt Holliday was going to make the play and let the ball fall. Kozma claims he heard the umpire make the call, but who really knows with all the noise.
Bandon: Kozma clearly ran forward when he thought Holliday was coming and the ball landed right next to where he had been standing. Also the umpire made the call when Kozma stopped the first time and when the ball was still well in the air.
Michael: Was well in the air? You can see the ball coming down in the same frame when the ump makes the call. You even said it yourself–Kozma ran forward because he thought Holliday had the ball. Therefore, it was a mistake on the two fielders part and if the ump did not call infield fly it would have been an error.
Bandon: It doesn’t matter if it is a mistake by the two fielders, that’s not how the infield fly rule works. There are three conditions: 1) Runners on first and second (or bases loaded) with fewer than two out. This was the case. 2) An infielder must be able to make the play. This was obviously the case as it was the the shortstop Kozma who got to the ball first. 3) The player must get into a position to make the play with ordinary effort. This was also the case as Kozma was under the ball before coming forward. Once all three of these conditions were satisfied, the umpire called and correctly called an infield fly.
Michael: I know that’s not how the infield fly works. I’m saying if the call was never made, based on your observation, Kozma thought Holliday was coming for the ball. Therefore, if the call was not made, it would have been an error on the fielder. Also, I have a hard time with this ordinary effort because to me, a shortstop running halfway between the infield and the outfield wall is not an ordinary effort. In the video it looks like he is barely going to get to the ball in time and he was by no means camped underneath it. Trust me, I’ve been going over the rule and I understand what it says, but I still believe the call was made late and the ordinary effort part of the rule in this scenario bothers me.
Bandon: If it would have been an error as you say, then by definition it was ordinary effort. It also does not say in the rule that the call must be made at a particular time in the play, just immediately after it becomes ‘apparent’.
Michael: Regardless of what the rule states, have you ever seen the infield fly rule called that deep in left before? I mean it was sixty feet back. That’s insane! I guess that is why so many people are unhappy with the call. The infield fly rule is meant to protect the base runners when there is a pop up in the infield. Not when there is a ball hit in the middle of left field.
Bandon: Actually, I have seen the infield fly rule called that deep before and on a similar play. (Though uncontroversial, as the ball was caught.) They showed it again last night too. I agree though that is probably why a lot of people are upset, but the umpires have to call the game by the rules and that’s what they did.