Rare interference halts furious 9th-inning rally

May 24th, 2024

CHICAGO -- Andrew Vaughn was stunned.

Pedro Grifol and the White Sox clubhouse as a whole were angry, after they finished on the short end of an 8-6 setback to Baltimore on Thursday night at Guaranteed Rate Field. But this setback was nothing like any of Chicago's previous 35 during the 2024 season.

In fact, the loss was different from anything previously seen in the two years with Grifol at the managerial helm. A four-run ninth-inning rally by the White Sox was cut short when Andrew Benintendi’s popout to shortstop Gunnar Henderson with runners on first and second and one out -- in which the infield fly rule was called -- ended the game as Vaughn was ruled out for interference by third-base umpire Junior Valentine.

Vaughn inadvertently brushed Henderson as he was moving back to second with the infield fly rule in effect. According to Rule 6:01(a), the runner can be ruled out for hindering a fielder trying to make a play on a batted ball whether it was intentional or not.

“Actually the shortstop made contact with him, so with the interference, that's an out,” crew chief Adrian Johnson told a pool reporter postgame. “And you still have the infield fly, and that's an out also."

“So there doesn't have to actually even be contact,” Valentine said. “If he hinders the fielder in the attempt to field a batted ball, intent is not required and it's interference.”

The White Sox trailed by six in the ninth, but the first six hitters reached base before Zach DeLoach, pinch-hitting for Paul DeJong, struck out against Yennier Cano. Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde brought in Craig Kimbrel to face Benintendi as the potential winning run, and two pitches later, the controversial ending occurred.

“They didn’t tell me anything, actually. They just said I was out,” Vaughn said. “I was reading the play, saw the popup, know it was an infield fly. Read it, started shuffling back and he kind of breezed by me on the right side. And then yeah, he made the play and the umpire called me out.”

“I haven’t gotten an explanation,” Hyde said. “I saw the umpire point right to the runner with the interference call. But with the infield fly, I think there’s a lot of confusion about it. I felt like we escaped there."

"Escape" was not the word used by the White Sox. Their postgame commentary, after falling to 15-36, was more of the displeased nature, with Vaughn still trying to figure out what he was supposed to do in this particular situation.

“He breezed by me. He uttered something like ‘get out of the way’ or something. And I was going back to the bag,” Vaughn said. “I don’t know where he’s at. I don’t know what other decision, I would like an answer to that.”

Grifol understands the rule and had no problem with the way it was called by Valentine.

His problem is with the rule itself, as he explained after the contest.

“Their shortstop had plenty of time to catch the baseball, and then if you want to talk about the runner, well, how does he know what the fielder is doing behind him?” Grifol said. “All he did was look at the ball, the ball goes up, he’s going back to the bag.

“He didn’t make contact on purpose. He wasn’t trying to impede Gunnar from catching the fly ball. He wasn’t doing that. It has nothing to do with the way the umpires called the play. I just have an issue with the rule.”

During a tough season, this finish could have been one to remember had the comeback been completed. The White Sox remained in position with Korey Lee, one of the team’s most productive hitters, on deck behind Benintendi to face Kimbrel (10th save) with two outs.

Lee never got a chance.

“It had been a while since I saw something like that,” said Orioles second baseman Jorge Mateo, through interpreter Brandon Quinones. “Honestly, it was a little surprising. But that was a call at the end of the day."

“I understand the ruling, but that ruling also comes under discretion,” said White Sox starter Mike Clevinger, who allowed five runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings. “That was pretty poor discretion by Junior. He makes that play or drops it, no one is advancing, nothing else is happening on the play. It was in the moment, people make mistakes and that was one of the mistakes.”