The Twins had runners on first and second base with Justin Morneau at 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 steal another game on the road; 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 he suddenly let the ball drop in front of him before throwing to first for the out.
~~~Originally published on RantSports.com~~~
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: where did the umpire make the error? The answer is that Frieri should never have 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.
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, to one of the four official infielders, 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.”
In addition to considering the pitcher an infielder, the key phrase to pay attention to in the infield fly definition is “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.
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 blunder could cost a team a decisive game down the stretch and thus, it needs to be called correctly. Of course, it needs to be correctly called in any event. Contrarians will argue that the play was a “judgment call” by the umpire. Well, it was, and his judgment that it was not an infield fly was wrong. The additional judgment by Frieri to let the ball drop should have been rendered irrelevant if the ump had made the right judgment.
Brian Wille is a Minnesota Twins writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @BeeWill15 or “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google
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