ARLINGTON, Texas – A strange play during Yu Darvish’s bid for a perfect game has started a debate around the majors on a most touchy subject.
As in, should it be a hit or an error when an easy flyball or popup falls between fielders and no one touches it?
For years, plays like that have routinely been ruled hits by the official scorer. Batters have always liked that stance; pitchers, not so much.
“Typically, 10 out of 10, that’s a base hit,” Boston manager John Farrell said.
On Friday night in Texas, Darvish set down the first 20 Red Sox batters before David Ortiz lifted a high flyball to right field with two outs in the seventh inning.
Veteran outfielder Alex Rios and 20-year-old second baseman Rougned Odor, playing his second major league game, both were in position to catch it. Instead, Rios suddenly slowed and Odor made a late lunge – they let the ball fall to the ground without touching it.
Steve Weller, in his 20th season as an official scorer in Texas, charged Rios with an error, and Darvish’s no-hit bid was intact.
“It’s one of the very rare, very rare times that you see a ball never touched by someone that’s ruled an error,” Farrell said.
Ortiz ended the no-hit drama with two outs in the ninth inning, grounding a clean single through the right side of Texas’ overshifted infield for Boston’s only hit.
All the postgame talk, however, was about the ball that got away.
Ortiz acknowledged his fly in the seventh should have been caught.
“But when it comes down to the rules in the game, that’s a hit,” Ortiz said. “That’s the rule that we all know, and that’s the rule that the game have for more than a hundred years.”
Well, that’s not exactly how it is written in the official rules of Major League Baseball.
Weller made a judgment call that Rios, with normal effort, could have made a routine catch.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of argument about that,” Weller said.
Because of the significance of the call, Weller conferred with the Elias Sports Bureau, the sport’s longtime record-keepers. He also watched the replay several times, even doing several freeze frames.
Weller referred to baseball rules, too – No. 10.12(a), to be exact – about his ruling.
Among the included comments related to the definition of errors in that section were two that came into play.
“It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error,” said one.
“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,” said the other.
Weller said such plays were discussed during a preseason meeting with Elias and official scorers representing every major league city in the country.
“There were some that argued it, but it was a consensus, that if a ball goes in the air and two or more players convene on the ball and under normal effort you feel like any one of them could’ve caught the ball, you’re almost obligated to award an error,” he said. “And that’s what I felt happened here.”
Rangers manager Ron Washington believed the ball should have been caught, though he wouldn’t say which of his fielders deserved the error.
Ortiz said that he would have been OK with that error if that was the only hit. Since he also singled in the ninth, Ortiz wanted more.
“If the guy’s throwing a no-hitter. I wouldn’t mind. I would have been OK with it, to be honest with you,” Ortiz said. “Yeah, I’m getting greedy.”