CHICAGO -- It was the kind of crazy -- and perhaps controversial, in the Astros’ eyes -- play that shifted the momentum for the White Sox, not only in Game 3 of the AL Division Series on Sunday night, but possibly the entire series itself.
With runners at first and third with nobody out in the fourth inning, Chicago catcher Yasmani Grandal hit a slow roller to first base on a changeup from veteran right-hander Zack Greinke and was hit on his left arm by the throw home from first baseman Yuli Gurriel, causing the ball to get past catcher Martín Maldonado and allowing a run to score.
It gave the White Sox a two-run lead and Eloy Jiménez followed with an RBI single, helping Chicago to a three-run inning in an eventual 12-6 win in front of a frenzied crowd at Guaranteed Rate Field.
The Astros and manager Dusty Baker contended that Grandal purposely ran on the inside part of the lane in an effort to get hit by the throw. But home-plate umpire and crew chief Tom Hallion explained after the game that there’s no 45-foot rule to establish a running lane because the throw was from first to home and not from home to first. Grandal never veered into the throw -- whether it meant purposely changing his direction or sticking out a body part -- and so it was ruled a run-scoring throwing error on Gurriel with Grandal reaching on a fielder’s choice. All six umpires conferred near first base before making the ruling.
"We decided that there was no interference because on that play the ball was hit to the infield, and then coming back to the plate,” Hallion said. “That 45-foot lane does not even come into play. It's the batter establishing his basepath. When he came out of the box and started running he didn't veer off, he didn't throw up his shoulder. He did nothing intentional to get hit with that ball. So, we all agreed, and that's why we came out to Dusty and told him that it's not interference.”
Baker, though, wasn’t satisfied with the ruling. He felt Grandal purposely ran too far inside the baseline after making contact with the grounder in an effort to be hit by the throw home.
“Clearly, he was running inside,” Baker said. “That's interference, you know, in itself. That was a big play because we didn't get an out. They scored a run and that was a big play in the inning. I was arguing the fact that, especially him being a catcher, he knows what he was doing. That was a smart play on his part, and that was the explanation that they gave me: that they didn't see anything wrong with the play.”
Grandal, however, denied that it was something he did on purpose, saying he was simply just trying to run to first base and didn’t even realize the throw was coming home.
“I wish I could tell you it was a heads-up play,” Grandal said. “I just saw the replay. I didn't even know I was running that far inside the line. I was actually just trying to get to first. It takes me a long time to get there, so as I hit the ball, I'm looking down. As I look up, I see the ball kind of coming straight at me. I try to get out of the way, and it hit me. So, yeah, I know what the rule is, but I wish it would have been a heads-up play on my part. It just so happened to hit me.”
But Maldonado thought it was unusual for Grandal to start his running lane so far inside the line, echoing Baker’s sentiment.
"The rule is different when you are throwing to first instead of first to home, but I think it was clear that he was on the grass," Maldonado said. "That changed the game."
White Sox manager Tony La Russa, however, believed the ruling was correct on the field because Grandal never intentionally interfered on his way to first. La Russa said he never sought an explanation from the umpires or Grandal because he knew they made the right call.
"The way he left the plate and you run direct, which you have every right to do -- the umpire called it correctly,” La Russa said. “When the guy throws the ball back this way, you can make your own lane just like if you do at third base, it's the same rule. There's no way he could do that on purpose, but they called the rule correctly."