During a contest that saw the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim lose to the Chicago White Sox in extra innings, manager Mike Scioscia argued an umpire's call so vehemently that he took the rather extreme step of filing an official protest.
With a 1-0 Angels lead in the bottom of the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field, White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko stepped to the plate against new Angel Zack Greinke with none out and the bases loaded. He clubbed a grounder to third baseman Alberto Callaspo, who then threw home to catcher Chris Iannetta for the easy force out.
What followed would result in one of the strangest first-inning sequences in recent baseball memory.
After receiving Callaspo's throw, Iannetta spun and fired to first, taking great care to avoid batter-runner Konerko, who was sprinting down the first base line. The resulting throw was wide, pulling first baseman Albert Pujols off the base. Konerko was declared "safe" by first base umpire Paul Nauert, which would ultimately allow the inning to continue. Chicago scored four runs to put Anaheim in an early hole.
Sensing a potential rules gaffe, former catcher Scioscia went from the visitor's dugout to meet home plate umpire Lance Barrett, knowing full well that Barrett had the power to make a key call from his angle near home plate.
Scioscia was determined and desperate to change the arbiter's silence. Indeed, after the umpires convened and refused to oblige, Scioscia still felt so uneasy about the whole affair, he elected to file an official protest with Major League Baseball.
At issue was the umpires' decision to declare Konerko "safe."
Official Baseball Rule 6.05(k) states that a batter, in running the final 45 feet from home plate to first base, may not interfere with the fielder taking the throw at first base by running outside of the three-foot line outlined by a chalk or painted stripe. If the batter-runner does run outside of the running lane, and in doing so interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, he may be declared out.
Because OBR Rule 4.19 states that, "No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire," Scioscia was prohibited from filing a protest alleging that the umpires incorrectly judged batter Konerko to be within the runner's lane. Had the umpires explained that Konerko had been within the lane, the protest could not have been filed for it would have been a judgment call protest, which is prohibited by rule.
Instead, Rule 4.19 authorizes a protest "when a manager claims that an umpire's decision is in violation of these rules."
Judgment call? No. Rules interpretation? Yes.
Speaking after the contest, Scioscia explained his decision and basis with which to file the report. "The umpire set the parameter and told us that Konerko was running well inside the line. All of the umpires agreed with that."
Meanwhile, umpiring crew chief Dana DeMuth countered, "[Ianentta] threw wild ... Konerko [in] no way interfered with the play at first."
Scioscia and the umpires stipulated that Konerko was running inside (to the left of) the foul line, in fair territory, one of the criteria Rule 6.05(k) requires for a batter-runner's lane interference call.
Though what of that second required element of Rule 6.05(k), the actual instance of interference?
Further complicating matters is an exception to Rule 6.05(k) interference: "The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane ... in the immediate vicinity of first base."
According to DeMuth, that second benchmark was never satisfied: "Konerko going down to first was [in] no way interfering with the play at first...It doesn't matter where is running."
Per Rule 6.05(k), the interference must occur with the fielder taking the throw at first base—most likely the first baseman—for such a rule to be invoked.
By rule, the thrower (in this case Iannetta) may not be the beneficiary of a runner's lane interference call; only the receiver (Pujols) may receive the reward if he is interfered with by the runner's illegal action.
Because only the receiver may benefit from this interference call, the exception to Rule 6.05(k) applies only to the batter-runner's position as the fielder receives the throw.
Replays indicate that while Konerko was conclusively over fair territory when Iannetta released his throw, Konerko was on his final stride toward first base when Pujols fielded the throw, which means Konerko was covered by the Rule 6.05(k) exception.
And even if Konerko was not covered by this exception, the umpires still got the call right because Pujols was not interfered with.
Herein lies Scioscia's conundrum. Iannetta's throw attempt may very well have been hindered by Konerko's running in fair territory as the Angels catcher released the ball—for all intents and purposes, it was. However, given the quality of Iannetta's throw, which was wide and pulled Pujols off the bag, Pujols could not have been interfered with by Konerko because the throw was significantly to the center field side of first base and Pujols nonetheless made the catch.
Had Iannetta's throw been on-line, then interference might have been possible.
Had Iannetta's throw nailed Konerko in the back while Konerko was inside fair territory and not protected by the Rule 6.05(k) exception, interference might have been possible if the umpires ruled Konerko's action and position prevented Pujols from fielding the throw.
Had Iannetta's throw been lost by Pujols in the sight of Konerko running at him while inside fair territory, interference might have been possible if the umpires ruled this batter-runner positioning constituted an impediment and hindered Pujols from making the play.
Unfortunately for the Angels, neither of these scenarios occurred—the throw was inaccurate and as athletic as Pujols may be, he was pulled off the first base bag by a wild throw from Iannetta, who—as catcher—was not protected by nor subject to the Rule 6.05(k) interference call.
When MLB reviews this filing, the League Office will uphold the umpires' call on the field and deny the Angels' protest not because judgment was right or wrong, but because the umpires' rule interpretation was absolutely correct.
Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.