A.J. Pierzynski on confusion, frustration over home plate rules: 'I don't even know what I'm doing'

Mike Petraglia
May 05, 2014 - 7:42 am

It was one of the moves made in the offseason that was intended to improve the safety of the catcher and base runner at home plate. The "Buster Posey Rule" (listed at the bottom of this page) was implemented this offseason to clarify the existing rule that says the catcher cannot block the plate without the ball in his possession or being in the act of fielding the ball. But what has resulted is mass confusion and misunderstanding of Rule 7.13. The latest such example came in the top of the third inning Sunday at Fenway Park. With the A's leading 1-0, Brandon Moss doubled left. Grady Sizemore fielded it and threw to Xander Bogaerts, who fired a strike to A.J. Pierzynski. The Red Sox catcher, in a textbook example of blocking the plate with his left foot, put it down just as he was fielding the ball and blocked Josh Donaldson from reaching the plate. Home plate umpire Mark Ripperger ruled Donaldson out at home. Was it a legal block? Could Donaldson have bowled over Pierzynski? Could A's manager Bob Melvin, who lost a challenge on the first play of the game at first base, challenge the play? "I never know. I don't think anybody exactly knows exactly what the rule is," Pierzynski said after Boston's 3-2 loss in 10 innings. "I know I gave him a lane and when I caught the ball, I just tried to go [at the plate]. It's so hard because I've been taught all these years to keep the guy from getting there. It's a little different in waiting [to block the plate]. "Donaldson and I kind of laughed about it afterward. He said, 'Dude, you didn't give me anywhere to go.' I was like, 'I don't even know what I'm doing.' Even talking to some of the umpires, they don't even know the [rules] exactly. The rule is kind of up to a lot of interpretation. I told the home plate umpire if they would have reversed it, there was a good chance I would've been kicked out of the game. I'm glad they stuck with [the ruling]. Hopefully, we'll continue to figure this thing out." After a 90-second review, the play call stood. Pierzynski was ruled to have blocked the plate legally and Donaldson was out. Pierzynski said the key, as a catcher, is timing, changing the internal clock in your head as the play is happening in a split-second. "You just have to do some things a little bit later," Pierzynski said. "Normally, I would've been in the line and there probably would've been a collision on that play. That's one of those plays where there definitely would've been [a collision] with Donaldson, the way he plays. Then, later in the game, where there almost was a collision because the throw took me up the line. It's one of those situations where I'm glad he has to slide because there would've been a heck of a collision but at the same time it's just weird because you just don't feel like you're comfortable because you don't where you can stand and what's legal and what's not legal. "We worked on it in spring training. We worked on changing our position and where we stand, [David] Ross and I. And it is hard because in the heat of the moment you don't be looking down worried about where you're standing. You're more worried about the ball and getting the guy out. It's one of those things that will come as time goes." Then there's Donaldson's point of view, the A's third baseman who has been at the center of no fewer than three of these types of calls already this season. "I got a little upset because I knew I beat the tag, but Mark told me that I didn't get to the plate, and at that point, I said, 'OK, if you didn't think that I got to the plate then I can't argue that.' But it's just like I don't know why I keep getting caught up in these rules, these new rules this year. It just seems like every time it happens to me," he said. "It's one of those plays where he's dropping his knee down probably two feet before he catches the ball and his body is out in front of the plate. In my opinion, if I go after him right there, because they say once you go block the plate, you're liable to get hit. But, he's in front of the plate, that would mean me altering my path to the plate and now what? Am I going to get ejected over it? Clearly, I felt I had beat that throw. I think the replay showed that. And Mark admitted to me I beat the throw but he said his leg blocked me. "I'm going as hard as I can and I'm sliding into home plate. I'm going to slide into his shin and I didn't see his shin to begin with until the last second. It's tough for base runners." Ironically, it was Donaldson who scored the A's first run in the first and the second run in the sixth, this time on a head-first slide. As for the A's manager, Melvin had to use the new rules to his advantage. He couldn't challenge the call at the plate since he lost a challenge at first base in the first inning. But he could get around that by asking the umpires to look at Pierzynski's form at the plate. "I didn't have a challenge so all I could do is ask him to look at if he was blocking the plate [illegally] or not and I didn't get anything after that," Melvin said. "They look at the whole play. When they go to look at that my understanding is that they would look at the whole play. I thought my best bet was to ask for that and have them look at the whole play. It's the first one that I've had like that, that could've been a multiple play. That's my understanding." The full rule of 7.13 is detailed below: A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision. Rule 7.13 comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner's lowering of the shoulder, or the runner's pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner's buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.