HOUSTON — Hate the rule, not the ruling.
The Nationals were incensed over Trea Turner being called out for runner’s lane interference in the seventh inning of their Game 6 victory over the Astros that forced a seventh game Wednesday night.
The play spawned a crazy sequence that included a long replay review that shouldn’t have been, a game protest made and withdrawn by Nationals manager Dave Martinez, a key two-run homer by Anthony Rendon and, at the next half inning, the first ejection by a manager in a World Series game since 1996.
And while replays showed Turner wasn’t trying to interfere with the throw, the way the rule is written — and has been on the books since at least the 1890s — by the letter of the law, plate umpire Sam Holbrook made the correct decision.
“It was the right call,” said Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, who then read the corresponding passage from the rule book. “If he had been running in the 45-foot [lane], he'd have been coming from a different angle and the first baseman may have had an easier chance catching the ball.”
Official Baseball Rule 5.09(a)(11) states: "A batter is out when — in running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside [to the right of] the three-foot line, or inside [to the left of] the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead."
After that is an additional “comment” in the rule book that covers the Turner play. It states: “The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base."
But because Turner was never in the designated runner’s lane to begin with, he was not afforded that exception.
In other words, one cannot exit something one was never in.
Still, a day later, even the manager who benefitted from the call, AJ Hinch of the Astros, said the rule is one worth revisiting.
“That one I wish common sense prevails,” Hinch said before Wednesday’s Game 7. “Because I actually side with Turner on this one, that I didn't think that he was getting in the way of anything. It was an errant throw.”
With the Nationals leading 3-2 in the seventh on Tuesday, Yan Gomes led off the inning with a single against Brad Peacock and Turner followed with a trickler in front of the plate.
Turner, running the whole way in fair territory, reached the base around the same time as the throw from Peacock, with Turner knocking first baseman Yuli Gurriel’s glove off as he got to the bag. Holbrook immediately called Turner out and all heck proceeded to break loose. Holbrook, along with crew chief Gary Cederstrom, at the insistence of Martinez, got on the headset to confer with replay central in New York. Runner’s interference is not reviewable, but Martinez wanted a “rules check,” a process that ended up taking almost five minutes. After the delay, the new Astros pitcher Will Harris retired Adam Eaton. Rendon then clocked a two-run homer to make it 5-2 and, thankfully from MLB’s perspective, made the impact of the controversial call significantly less. The delay, though not used as an excuse by Hinch, didn’t make him happy.
“It's not a reviewable call,” Hinch said. “I'm as confused as everybody is, because there was no reason to have the delay, from my seat."
Said Torre: “It should never be that long. That's unfortunate. And certainly we have to take ownership of that. But it shouldn't have been that long.”
Martinez, who became the first manager tossed from a World Series game since the Braves' Bobby Cox during Game 6 of the 1996 Series against the Yankees, mostly steered clear of the topic after Game 6 and did before Game 7 as well.
“I don't know how long that rule has been in place, probably a hundred years, I don't know,” Martinez said Wednesday of a possible rules change. “A rule is a rule. These judgment calls are difficult. The umpires do the best they can on getting it right. I know that. I understand that. So my job is to get the boys motivated to play every day, and I'm going to keep focusing on my job.”
HOUSTON — Hate the rule, not the ruling.