Ruling on Ortiz hit thankfully a footnote
Error changed to single after Red Sox slugger appeals decision
HOUSTON -- David Ortiz went to bed on Tuesday night as a .287 hitter. Before he had gotten rolling on Wednesday, he was hitting .294.
Ortiz's batting average had grown while he was sleeping, a nice trick when you can pull it off. But this wasn't just any one of the 2,063 hits in his decorated career. This one was special, as Ortiz had specifically appealed for it, and it could have created an international furor if not for hit No. 2,054.
That one, a scalding single through the Rangers' shifted infield off Yu Darvish with two outs in the ninth inning last Friday night, officially broke up Darvish's latest bid for a no-hitter. It rendered academic whether Ortiz should have been credited with a hit when a high pop fell between rookie second baseman Rougned Odor and right fielder Alex Rios in the seventh inning.
That one broke up Darvish's bid for a perfect game, but it was scored an error on Rios by official scorer Steve Weller. Ortiz himself appealed the ruling to Major League Baseball, and he was rewarded with a hit when MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre agreed with generations of official scorers who have taken the path of least resistance by awarding hits on balls that fall between fielders.
When MLB overturned the call, it was thankfully only a footnote to history. There would have been a lasting furor about the ruling -- no matter whether it was scored a hit or an error -- if not for Ortiz himself taking Weller off the hook with the ninth-inning single (which, by the way, would have likely been a backhand play for Odor if the Rangers weren't playing the shift).
"It ended up not being a no-hitter, so giving Ortiz another hit doesn't matter," Rangers manager Ron Washington said Wednesday. "It's two hits instead of one."
No question about that. But imagine what fodder this would have been for the blogosphere on two continents if the Japanese ace had gotten Ortiz out in the ninth inning, setting off a celebration in Arlington and Tokyo, only to learn five days later that he had a one-hitter, not a no-no.
It might have been the most dissected scoring call since Dan Daniel gave Joe DiMaggio a hit on a ball that White Sox shortstop Luke Appling couldn't handle in the middle of his 56-game streak in 1941.
Darvish, for his part, did not offer a strong opinion about the MLB decision to give Ortiz a hit on the ball that fell between Odor and Rios.
"We won the game," Darvish said through his interpreter. "Whether it was a one-hitter or a two-hitter, we won the game. That's something that happened, but all I care about is the win. I don't mind as long as they don't take the win away."
Weller said he made his ruling after consulting with the Elias Sports Bureau, baseball's official statistics service. There is language to support the ruling in the rule book, but Torre's decision came down on precedent, not language. That's my take, anyway, as MLB did not issue an explanation with its ruling, staying consistent with its practice on the dozens of calls it reviews every month.
Washington had the strongest opinion on the subject. He is sure that Weller got the call right, saying in his usual colorful style that a pitcher should not be punished for fielders being unable to catch a high pop that they were in position to catch.
Washington, a big league infielder for 10 seasons, was asked if he had any balls fall between him and a teammate during his career. His eyes almost popped out of his head as he went into a rant about how Dick Williams and Sparky Anderson wouldn't have tolerated such malfeasance.
"You're talking about baseball today," Washington said. "You ain't talking about baseball in my day. It never happened to me. There was always communication. I'm telling you. Me and my shortstop, me and my third baseman, we always communicated. Miscommunicate on a ball in the air that's an out? That's this generation. It's not my generation."
Washington did admit that he once dropped a popup. It was in winter ball and he still carries the shame with him.
"Yes, if a pop fly goes up and something like [the breakdown between Odor and Rios] happened [with me playing], I want it to be an error," he said. "Matter of fact, I would have took the error. I would have took it."
Don't read anything into Ortiz's decision to personally appeal to MLB. The Red Sox probably would have done it for him had Ortiz and his agents not exercised their rights to involve the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Red Sox manager John Farrell was pleased with Wednesday's ruling.
"I [thought] it was a hit in the moment," Farrell said. "Upon further review, obviously, they change it. I think in the end, the right call has been made."
Farrell didn't say why it's right to punish a pitcher for fielders being unable to make a routine play like the one on Ortiz's sky-high pop at Globe Life Park. It was a classic example of the type of play that might best be attributed to a team error, as opposed to one on a specific fielder. But MLB has resisted suggestions to alter the scoring rules to create such a category, so Weller dealt with the same basic set of guidelines as Daniel in 1941.
Darvish joked with reporters that he would have rather had the play scored a hit in the seventh inning at the time. He would not have been pushed into the ninth inning, throwing 126 pitches.
Because of that, Darvish was held out of Wednesday's game against the Astros. Nick Tepesch was inserted into the rotation to give Darvish extra rest before he faces the Blue Jays on Friday in Arlington.
Maybe Darvish was just upset he didn't get to the face the Astros, as he had twice flirted with no-hitters against them last season. But the Rangers' home fans shouldn't mind.
Maybe Darvish will get his no-hitter Friday or just get close again. If Weller is smart, he'll ask for the night off. There are a lot of jobs that don't pay enough, and official scorer is one of those.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.