Three ballplayers with a combined 29 seasons of big-league experience did not understand the infield fly rule when it was invoked on a pop-up by Reyes in the seventh inning of the Mets' 5-2 win over the Braves on Friday night at Citi Field.
Pagan and Mets third-base coach Chip Hale were lauded for their heady assessment of the situation, and rightly so.
But a snapshot of the play and its aftermath leads to the conclusion that the infield fly rule, which has been around for about 120 years and seems fairly straightforward, still is a bit of a mystery to many.
Reyes: "I had no idea what was going on. Everything happened so quick."
Castillo: "I ran because I saw Pagan run. So I ran."
McCann: "When I saw [Castillo] run, I thought that he at least had to tag. I didn't know the whole rule."
Bill Shannon: "This is the kind of thing that shouldn't be happening in 'A' ball, let alone the major leagues."
Shannon is a baseball historian, author, official scorer and reporter. He worked Friday night's game and blanched when he saw the Braves' misunderstanding of the infield fly rule.
The situation: Pagan was on second and Castillo on first with one out and Reyes at the plate. Reyes sent a pop-up to the infield grass in front of third base. Jones converged with shortstop Omar Infante, got tangled up and dropped the ball for an error.
Reyes, however, was out the instant umpires invoked the infield fly rule. The fact that the ball ricocheted off Jones' glove and rolled away did not change that.
The rule states in part: "An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball 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 purpose is to prevent a defensive player from creating a cheap double play or even triple play by letting the pop-up fall, then picking it up and forcing runners on the bases.
Once the ball goes up, the runners have to stay anchored as there is no reasonable expectation of the ball falling on a routine pop-up; it wouldn't be fair to allow the fielders to use this fact against the runners.
According to Shannon, the rule came about because the John McGraw-Hughie Jennings-Wee Willie Keeler Baltimore Orioles of the late 19th century figured out you could trap a pop-up in the infield fly rule situation and pick up some easy outs.
"No one who is alive today has ever seen a baseball game played without the infield fly rule," Shannon said.
After the ball clanged off Jones' glove, it rolled toward the grass between the pitcher's mound and home plate, where Braves catcher McCann retrieved it. Pagan and Castillo, who were allowed to leave their bases as soon as the ball hit Jones' glove, each took a base.
Reyes, meanwhile, was standing on first base. McCann walked that way, pointing at first baseman Hinske - with Pagan and Hale watching - and lobbed the ball to Hinske.
First-base umpire Bruce Dreckman already had his right hand up to signal that Reyes was out, which Reyes didn't know until first-base coach Razor Shines told him.
"He said, 'You're out,' " Reyes said. " 'Go to the dugout.' ''
McCann said he knew Reyes was out but thought he could double off Castillo. But the infield fly rule states: "The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball."
Hinske had the ball and McCann left the plate uncovered. Jones was closest, but he had his back to Pagan. Hale started screaming at Pagan, "Go! Go! Go!"
"Boom," Pagan said. "I went."
Hinske threw the ball to Jones, but Pagan slid in ahead of the tag to turn a 3-2 game into a 4-2 game.
Pagan said he knew the rule because the Mets held a "rule-a-day" baserunning drill for a week in spring training. Bench coach Dave Jauss said topics included appeal plays, balks, interference and obstruction and, of course, the infield fly rule.
Reyes was absent for the "rule-a-day" drills. He was home resting with the thyroid issue that caused him to miss three weeks of spring training. So he wasn't quite sure about the infield fly rule.
He should be now.