There was a doozy of a play in game 5 of the ALDS. Here is what happened – with 2 outs and a runner on third, a batter takes a pitch. The catcher’s return throw hits the batter’s hand (while he is in the box) and deflects away. The runner from third races home.
At first, the runner was sent back to third. The home plate umpire actually was killing the play before the runner scored.
Upon conferring with the other umpires, they reversed the decision and allowed the run to score.
Did they get it right?
Heck yes they did.
Here is probably the rule going through the home plate umpire’s mind (guessing as I am not a mind reader).
Deep in the rule book is this clause:
Rule 6.03(a)(3) Comment (last paragraph)
If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.
This is called “weak interference”. The batter is not out but no runners can advance. No harm no foul. Of course this was not the exact situation. My guess is that this ruling popped into his head because it seems the most “fair”.
The actual “rule” for this is no where in the book. It is in the smaller supplemental book called Major League Baseball Rule Interpretations.
It states (emphasis added by me):
BATTER INTERFERES WITH CATCHER’S THROW BACK TO PITCHER
If the batter interferes with the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher by stepping out of the batter’s box while he is at bat (no runners attempting to advance), it shall not be considered interference under Official Baseball Rule 6.06( c). In such cases, the umpire shall call “Time” only (no interference). The ball will be dead and no runners shall advance on the play.
The interpretation does not, of course, give the batter license to intentionally interfere with the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher, and in such cases the batter shall be called out. If the batter becomes a runner on ball four and the catcher’s throw strikes him or his bat, the ball remains alive and in play (provided no intentional interference by the batter-runner).
If the batter interferes with the catcher’s throw to retire a runner by stepping out of the batter’s box, interference shall be called on the batter under Official Baseball Rule 6.06( c).
However, if the batter is standing in the batter’s box and he or his bat is struck by the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher (or throw in attempting to retire a runner) and, in the umpire’s judgment there is no intent on the part of the batter to interfere with the throw, consider the ball alive and in play.
The interpretation clearly covers this situation. The batter did not intentionally interfere. The ball is live and the runner advances at own risk.
The umpires got together and got this right.