Umpires explain quirky ground-rule double

October 11th, 2021

BOSTON -- Kevin Kiermaier rounded third base, learned what had happened out near the right-field bullpens, then threw his hands into the air. So had the umpires, signaling a ground-rule double -- one of the strangest seen yet at Fenway Park, a century-old venue of nooks and crannies where odd bounces can be a nightly occurrence.

Kiermaier’s drive in the top of the 13th inning should have sent home Yandy Díaz with a go-ahead run, but Game 3 of the American League Division Series will be remembered for a quirky ricochet. The ball hit the wall, struck Red Sox outfielder Hunter Renfroe in the right thigh and hopped into the Boston bullpen -- a crucial moment in a contest ultimately won by the Red Sox, 6-4, in 13 innings.

“The rules are what they are, but man, that's a heartbreaker,” Kiermaier said. “I can't believe that happened, or we don't get the chance to score right there. I crushed that ball. I got a lot of snap and crackle with no pop, first and foremost. I mean, Yandy would have scored standing up. It's a heartbreaker, plain and simple.”

“By rule, it’s just a ground-rule double,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “The umpires met and got together and said, ‘You’re more than welcome to challenge it.’ I saw the replay, and obviously, there was nothing intentional about it. That’s just the rule, that’s just the way it goes. It was very unfortunate for us.”

Crew chief Sam Holbrook and umpire supervisor Charlie Reliford were made available to reporters after Game 3, with Holbrook producing his copy of the 2021 MLB Umpire Manual.

“It's item 20 in the manual, which is, balls deflected out of play, which is in reference to official baseball Rule 5.06(b)(4)(H). It says, ‘If a fair ball not in flight is deflected by a fielder and goes out of play, the award is two bases from the time of the pitch.’”

Holbook added: “Once that ball hit the wall, it was no longer in flight. Now the ball bounces off the wall and is deflected out of play off of a fielder. That’s just a ground-rule double. There’s no ‘He would’ve done this, he would’ve done that.’ It’s just flat out in the rule book. It’s a ground-rule double.”

Díaz was running to second base on Nick Pivetta’s full-count pitch, approaching third base when the ball went over the wall. In essence, the ball retains its status as a batted ball until fielded cleanly by a defensive player. So even after striking Renfroe, the outcome is identical to what would have happened if it naturally bounced over the fence.

“I was going for the catch and happened to look up, and the wall was right there,” Renfroe said. “It hit the top of the wall, ricocheted off the ground, hit me in the right hip. Thankfully it bounced over the fence and they issued a ground-rule double. It would be the same thing if you were going down the line, it hit your glove, hit the ground and bounced over.”

The rules also provide no umpire discretion as to runner placement. As such, Díaz was returned to third base, to be stranded there when Pivetta struck out Mike Zunino. The Rays challenged the runner placement, which was confirmed by replay. Part of the replay review in New York was to make sure Renfroe did not intentionally send the ball over the wall.

“It’s a high-priority game, a high-priority situation, and we want to make sure that we get everything right,” Holbrook said. “If it was intentionally kicked out, then it would have been from the time of the intentional deflection, two bases from that time. So we went and looked at it, and they confirmed that it was just a ball off the wall, hit the fielder and deflected out of play. From an umpire’s standpoint, it’s very simple -- textbook in the rule.”

“I’ve seen it. I was familiar,” said Reliford, who umpired in the Majors from 1989 through 2009 before becoming a supervisor. “But I get it, that it doesn’t happen very often.”

Cash said that it was “fairly obvious” that Díaz would have scored, if not for the deflection.

“I definitely wish it was different,” Cash said. “I think it would be a very easy call if somebody stepped in and said it was stating the obvious, that he was going to score. Saying that, it’s been a rule for a long time, and we’re going to play within the rules that are presented to us this season.”

Tampa Bay was also curious about a potential obstruction call in the eighth inning, when Randy Arozarena collided with Red Sox first baseman Kyle Schwarber on his run-scoring double.

“It was obstruction, but they also didn’t feel that he was going to get to third base,” Cash said. “Had Randy kept running and he gets thrown out by 20 feet, you’re making a judgment call. They certainly marked the obstruction, but I think he probably belonged at second.”

Boston won the game in the bottom of the 13th on Christian Vázquez’s two-run homer.

“I don’t want that [ground-rule double] play to take away from what this game was, on both sides,” Red Sox outfielder Kiké Hernández said. “Both teams played a hell of a game. This is what October is all about.”