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Phantom Double Play: Umpires Get it Right in Reds-Pirates Game

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Phantom Double Play: Umpires Get it Right in Reds-Pirates Game
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Reds SS Brandon Phillips is tagged out for a second time during the Reds-Pirates game.

Umpire Lance Barrett worked his first MLB regular season game in 2010, joining the likes of fellow umps Vic Carapazza, Cory Blaser, John Tumpane, Alan Porter, Mark Ripperger, Manny Gonzalez and David Rackley as the so-called Class of 2010, now into their second season of big league games.

Like all AAA call-up umpires, Barrett is trying to set himself apart so he can get a full-time job at the MLB level.

Sometimes, proving yourself to the MLB brass involves making a big-time call in a potentially confusing situation. Last season, the Class of 2009's Dan Bellino won over many Umpire Ejection Fantasy Leaguers as well as MLB Supervisors with an ejection following a confident and correct obstruction call in Washington. Bellino was hired by MLB prior to the 2011 season.

Barrett's Bellino moment may have come in Pittsburgh tonight. In the top of the fifth inning of the Reds-Pirates game, with one out, runners on first and second, and the possibility of an infield fly fresh in all of our minds, Reds batter Drew Stubbs lined a Jeff Locke fastball to Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeno.

While Cedeno fielded the ball on a short-hop, baserunner R2 (and pitcher by trade) Edinson Volquez, mistakingly believing the ball had been caught, stepped back onto second base as Cedeno threw to second baseman Neil Walker. Walker caught the ball and stepped on the second base bag, resulting in an out call from Barrett.

Walker subsequently tagged Volquez, who was standing on second base. This resulted in a safe call from Barrett.

Fairly straightforward: R1 Brandon Phillips was forced out on the tag of second base, which took the force off of R2 Volquez, who now legally and safely occupied second base. Batter Stubbs safely arrived at first base. One out, two on.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Reds pitcher Edinson Volquez in his natural habitat - on the mound, as opposed to on the bases.

Not so fast... Phillips, as confused as anyone, and perhaps adding to the confusion himself, began running frantically between first and second base, drawing a throw from Walker. The bewildered Pirates infield quickly trapped the already-retired R1 Phillips in a rundown between first and second before unnecessarily tagging out Phillips for a second time.

Either way, Barrett once again gave the out call so there would be no confusion this time. Unfortunately, there was confusion - lots of it, for everyone except perhaps Barrett, crew chief Mike Winters, and umpires Mike Everitt and Chris Guccione... or maybe for them as well.

For you see, the umpires determined that Phillips was out, as expected. Batter Drew Stubbs would be placed on first base, also as expected. But Volquez, who had taken off for third base in the pandemonium which ensued while Phillips was in a rundown between first and second, was sent back to second base.

To understand why Barrett, Winters and the other umpires ruled the way they did requires an analysis of MLB Rules 7.09(e) and 9.01(c).

Rule 7.09(e) states, in part, it is interference when "any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner." Rule 7.09(e) Comment additionally states, "If the batter or a runner continues to advance after he has been put out, he shall not by that act alone be considered as confusing, hindering or impeding the fielders."

Rule 9.01(c), as all umpires know, is the so-called elastic clause, which gives an umpire the "authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in these rules."

Putting the two together allows for an explanation of why the umpires ruled the way they did. Phillips' post-put out actions were not enough on their own to be considered interference. This is clearly specified in Rule 7.09(e) Comment. However, the Phillips rundown clearly did confuse the fielders and allow Volquez to advance toward third base.

In the end, Winters correctly invoked Rule 9.01(c) to deliver a fair and just judgment: Phillips was out, Stubbs was safe at first, and Volquez would also be ruled safe, but fairly returned to second base.

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