Official scorer explains controversial error ruling on David Ortiz's pop-up

May 10, 2014 - 2:35 am

For official scorer Steve Weller, the development was mortifying. Yu Darvish had been perfect through the first 20 batters of the game. The Red Sox hadn't had a whiff of a baserunner let alone hit, and when David Ortiz lofted a two-out pop-up to shallow right field, it appeared that the Rangers right-hander would move within six outs of a perfect game. Yet when rookie second baseman Rougned Odor converged with right fielder Alex Rios, a sense of unease emerged on the field that would soon extend up to the press box where the official scorer sits. On an easily catchable fly ball, Odor appeared to be camped under the ball but, at the last minute, almost seemed to jump out of the way, after which point he reached back in an unsuccessful attempt to haul in Ortiz's hit. His effort proved unsuccessful, and the ball fell untouched between him and Rios. Unmistakably, the fault for the play lay in the Rangers defense. It was an easy play that should have been made. But even though the play denied Darvish perfection, the ballpark waited with bated breath for Weller to make the call on the play, to see if he'd call it a hit or error. "Typically," manager John Farrell told reporters, "10 out of 10, that's a base hit." Often, if a player doesn't touch the ball on a pop-up, it will be ruled a hit. But Weller, citing Rule 10:12 a1, charged Rios with an error. The rule states: It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error. If a ground ball goes through a fielder's legs or a fly ball falls untouched and, in the scorer's judgment, the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, the official scorer shall charge such fielder with an error. For example, the official scorer shall charge an infielder with an error when a ground ball passes to either side of such infielder if, in the official scorer’s judgment, a fielder at that position making ordinary effort would have fielded such ground ball and retired a runner. The official scorer shall charge an outfielder with an error if such outfielder allows a fly ball to drop to the ground if, in the official scorer’s judgment, an outfielder at that position making ordinary effort would have caught such fly ball. Despite that rule, however, the Red Sox expressed some befuddlement about its application. "It's one of the very rare, very rare times that you see a ball never touched by someone that's ruled an error, Farrell told reporters. That ruling, in turn, left Weller in an uncomfortable position of having to explain his call. (Of course, the same would have been necessary had he ruled it a hit.) "I didn't want to be in this position, explaining my call. I am just like an umpire in that all I want to do is get it right," Weller, who has been scoring games for 20 years, told a pool reporter. "I know what it looks like some people thinking he's being a hometown scorer and trying to protect the pitcher. I looked at the replay a dozen times and it has not changed my opinion. From my perspective, the perfect game was more coincidental to the call than getting the call right. "This is a judgment call," he added. "In my judgment, when the ball goes up in the air, I felt like the second baseman or the right fielder under normal effort could've clearly caught the ball. I don'€™t think there'€™s a lot of argument about that. Under the rule, 10.12 a1, it clearly states that a fly ball that lands -- that'€™s allowed to hit the ground, that in the judgment of the official scorer under normal effort could be caught -- you'€™re to award an error on the play. ... "At an official scorer'€™s meeting with the Elias Sports Bureau with official scorers representing every city in the country, we talked about plays like this and the consensus -- there were some that argued it, but it was a consensus -- that if a ball goes in the air and two or more players convene on the ball and under normal effort you feel like any one of them could'€™ve caught the ball, you'€™re almost obligated to award an error. And that'€™s what I felt happened here." Weller did not rule immediately, instead mulling his decision prior to rendering his official judgment. Indeed, he reached out to the Elias Sports Bureau for its feedback before charging Rios with the error after he determined that it looked like the right fielder called off the second baseman, and that the right fielder had the easier play on the ball given that he was coming in.

"Since the play happened and it broke up a perfect game and the amount of emphasis that was on this I called the Elias Sports Bureau. I normally do not do that, but I called them. They reviewed the play and agreed with the call," Weller told the pool reporter. "I got another call back and I asked them the question about our official scorer'€™s meeting in New York and if that still stands. They said, in spite of everything else, it'€™s still a judgment call on the official scorer.

"That being said, I think that'€™s why you'€™ll see this play called different ways. I know the PR director of the Red Sox said the same thing to me. He said I've seen it called -- and I've seen it called the other way, too. I can'€™t address what other official scorers call, and I can'€™t address other plays and other situations. In my judgment both players could've caught the ball."

Whether that call now stands remains to be seen. Major League Baseball will review the ruling and render a verdict as to whether it was a hit or error. Given that Darvish lost the no-hitter with two outs in the ninth, when Ortiz singled through the shift and past a diving Odor in medium depth right field, the Red Sox DH said that -- while he would have been fine with the error ruling if Darvish had completed the no-hitter -- he expects the call to be overturned.

"They have to [overturn Weller's decision]. Otherwise they going to have to fix some [stuff] up. They have to," Ortiz told reporters. "I mean, OK, I know I hit a ball that was supposed to be caught, the guy is throwing a no-hitter, we all understand that. But when it comes down to the rules in the game, that's a hit. That'€™s the rule that we all know and that's the rule the game has for more than 100 years. the ball in the outfield drops between the infield and the outfield and nobody touched it, that's a hit."