After a drama filled game on Tuesday evening in which the Minnesota Twins rallied to beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 10 innings, the teams were back at it Wednesday afternoon with the Twins having a rare opportunity to sweep a road series. The game was an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel throughout the game, but it was a blown call by an umpire that ultimately stole the show in the Twins’ 1-0 defeat.
The Twins had runners on first and second base with Justin Morneau up to bat and nobody out. Angels’ closer Ernesto Frieri had been struggling mightily with his command and the Twins were poised to scratch across a few runs and possibly steal another game on the road, but all of that changed in the blink of an eye due to a crucial “judgment” error by the umpire. Morneau hit a soft, broken bat pop-up that was heading towards Frieri, who had plenty of time to make what appeared to be a routine play, when Frieri suddenly let the ball drop in front of him before throwing to first for the out.
Now why would Frieri let the ball drop you may ask? Well it’s pretty simple: if Frieri lets the ball drop, he can then pick it up and turn a double play because the runner at first—if he is a smart base runner—will freeze on such a slow and low-level pop-up and will head back to first. By letting the ball drop and throwing to first base, Frieri ensured he would get Morneau out and also catch the runner at first—Doug Bernier—in a run-down for the second out. You may be asking yourself: where did the umpire make the error? The answer is that Frieri should never of had the opportunity to let the ball drop in front of him. The umpire should have ruled the play an infield fly, which would have held the Twins to one out, and the runners would have returned to their respective bases and could advance at their own risk.
Too often, fans and media members believe that an infield field fly can only be called if there is a pop-up that has occurred in the confines of the infield with runners on first and second base and less than two outs; but that understanding is mistaken. According to the MLB Official Rules, by definition, “An infield fly is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.”
The key words to pay attention to in the infield fly definition are “caught by an infielder with ordinary effort”. The fact that Frieri had time to see the ball in the air, decide to let it fall and be able to make a double-play should be evidence enough that something wasn’t right. With ordinary effort—or below ordinary effort for that matter—Frieri could have easily caught the low-hanging pop-up; thus, the umpire should have called an infield fly because it was a play that the infielder could have made with ordinary effort. There is no way the umpire could have argued that Morneau’s pop-up was a line drive because, by definition, a line drive is a batted ball that goes sharp and direct from the bat to a fielder without touching the ground. Morneau’s hit wasn’t sharp and if it were, Frieri never would have had the chance or choice to let the ball drop in front of him like he did.
This missed call may seem insignificant due to the fact that the Twins are so far out of contention; but the fact remains that this type of a missed call could cost a team a decisive game down the stretch and thus, it needs to be called correctly. Contrarians will argue that the play was a “judgment call” by the umpire; but in my mind, the only judgment conducted on the play was by Frieri himself as to whether or not he should let the ball drop. That, baseball fans, sure sounds like an infield fly to me.