Interpretation of infield fly rule irks Mackanin

On odd play, Phils run into costly out on basepaths

Interpretation of infield fly rule irks Mackanin

PHILADELPHIA -- Pete Mackanin wasn't happy with the Phillies' baserunning instincts during the season-opening six-game road trip. Even though the lapses didn't cost his team, he knows that in the long run those mistakes would transform potential wins into losses.

During Monday's home-opening 4-3 loss to the Padres at Citizens Bank Park, confusion over an infield fly rule call may have short-circuited a big rally. In this case, though, Mackanin's quibble was with the interpretation of the rule, not with the baserunning decision that led to an unnecessary out at third.

Here's the setup: Down by a run going into the bottom of the sixth, the Phillies loaded the bases with nobody out against San Diego starter Andrew Cashner on a walk to Cesar Hernandez and singles by Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco. Left-hander Brad Hand relieved Cashner and Mackanin countered by sending Darin Ruf up to bat for Ryan Howard. Ruf popped up toward left and that's when the fun began.

Padres left fielder Wil Myers threw his hands in the air, indicating that he had no idea where the ball was. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez and third baseman Alexi Amarista retreated. While all this was going on, third-base umpire Will Little emphatically invoked the infield fly rule. Ruf was out. The runners could advance at their own risk.

When the ball dropped into the Bermuda Triangle among the Padres defenders, Hernandez did just that and scored easily from third. Herrera, however, was unaware that he didn't have to try to advance to third. Neither was Amarista, who stepped on third as if the force play was still in effect, then also tagged the runner almost as an afterthought.

This led to a challenge, even though the infield fly itself is not reviewable.

"The force was removed, so the Phillies were contending that [Amarista] never tagged [Herrera]," crew chief Ted Barrett said. "So they used their challenge on that. That's what we went to New York for. And the replay official determined he had tagged him.

"The criteria for an infield fly is a batted ball in the air that a fielder can field with ordinary effort. And that's what the third-base umpire ruled. Of course, the confusion a lot of times is people think that the depth of the fly ball into the outfield comes into play. And that's not a factor. It's actually [whether it can be] easily caught by an infielder, with ordinary effort."

Mackanin's contention was the rule shouldn't be invoked in the first place.

"I didn't like the call, but we have to live with it," he said. "It's their judgment. That was a big play, obviously, [but] we had opportunities after that."

The play was reminiscent of the popup to left field by then-Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons that fell into left field in the National League Wild Card Game in 2012, a play that might have helped Atlanta eliminate St. Louis if umpire Sam Holbrook hadn't called the batter out on the infield fly rule.

Of course, all that could have been avoided if Herrera and Franco had stayed at their bases. The score would have been tied with runners on first and second with just one out. Instead, Cameron Rupp struck out to end the inning and the Phillies had only one more baserunner in the final three innings.

"If you're on the bases it's hard, especially when there are 45,000 people, to hear an umpire yell it," Ruf said. "You're certainly not looking for an umpire to point. So when you see the ball drop that far into the outfield, I think it's just your natural instinct to try to advance."

Said Herrera: "I did not hear anything from the umpire. It's the first time that's happened to me. If I had known the circumstances, I would have done something different. [Amarista] tagged me and I think he was as confused as I was."

On Friday night, against the Mets at Citi Field, Hernandez was doubled up when he tried to advance to second when an infield popup by Herrera dropped behind the mound. What Hernandez didn't realize was that the infield fly rule had been called and that the proper move was to stay right where he was.

Mackanin called the mistake "unacceptable." Hernandez said he should have known better.

The next night, Hernandez was on third with Herrera on first and one out in the ninth. Franco followed by beating out a grounder to third. But this time, Hernandez didn't run when he should have. In the series finale Sunday, Herrera almost got doubled off second on a fly ball to right that he probably should have gone to third on.

The Phillies didn't lose any games in New York because of their misadventures on the basepaths. Monday may have been a different story, but the manager disagreed more with how the rule was applied than with how his runner reacted.

Paul Hagen is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.