MLB Rule Book: Rule 6.01(a )(10) Comment: “When a catcher and batter-runner going to first base have contact when the catcher is fielding the ball, there is generally no violation and nothing should be called. ‘Obstruction’ by a fielder attempting to field a ball should be called only in very flagrant and violent cases because the rules give him the right of way, but of course such ‘right of way’ is not a license to, for example, intentionally trip a runner even though fielding the ball. If the catcher is fielding the ball and any fielder, including the pitcher, obstructs a runner going to first base, ‘obstruction’ shall be called and the base runner awarded first base.”
Home plate umpire Tim Timmons called Washington Nationals’ catcher Spencer Kieboom for obstruction on a bunt by Miguel Rojas in the bottom of the 10th on Saturday, with the score tied at 1-1 in extra innings in Miami, FL’s Marlins Park.
Kieboom jumped out of his crouch on the bunt, collided with Rojas coming out of the right-handed batter’s box, fielded it as it rolled up the first base side of the grass in front of home, cutting off Nationals’ reliever Kelvin Herrrera, and threw to first base to get the out, with Magneuris Sierra, who bunted his way on to lead off the Marlins’ half of the tenth inning, advancing to second on the play.
Timmons came out and made the obstruction call and Rojas was awarded the base, putting two on with no one out.
Brian Anderson singled in the next at bat, loading the bases, and with the Nationals using a five-man infield (with right fielder Bryce Harper at first base), J.T. Realmuto dropped a fly ball into fair territory down the line in right for a walk-off single, that fell in just out of the reach of center fielder Michael A. Taylor as he sprinted to the line. 2-1 Fish.
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez was still hot when he talked about the obstruction call after the loss.
Martinez, who’s said often in his first year as a manager that he won’t criticize umpires because they’re just doing their jobs, didn’t hold back this time.
“He said it was obstruction, and clearly the rule states that it’s not obstruction,” Martinez told reporters in Miami.
“If he deemed him able to be safe, yeah we have an argument, but there was no way he was going to be safe on that play, no way. So, the fact of the matter that he said he knew the rules, and was clear about knowing the rules after I asked him to reconvene with Angel [Hernandez] and those guys, and he said no, then, you know what, he screwed up, plain and simple. I’m not going to sit here and argue about — cause like I said — but that’s not what the rule states. If anything, the defensive team has the right of way to go field the ball, so he just went on Rojas’s finger-pointing that he obstructed him to run, I don’t even think he was going to really run, so, that was just a bad call. Period.”
If it was such a bad call, why didn’t he continue to argue?
“Because when he tells me he’s done arguing, what do you want me to do?” Martinez asked.
“I’m not going to sit there — we’re trying to stay in the game, I’m trying to stay in the game, but clearly I know the rules, and that wasn’t it. When I came back in and I saw it on replay, I understand now that he had no chance of making it to first, zero chance of making it to first base.”
“I had obstruction, because the ball was not in the middle area of the plate,” Timmons told reporters, as quoted on Twitter by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“The runner was obstructed. It wasn’t clear whether Herrera was going to field the ball, or the catcher. The catcher can field the ball, but he can’t obstruct the runner and clear the runner out of the way.”
Asked if the batter has the right of way at all times, Timmons said, “No.”
“If the ball is immediately in the vicinity of home plate, right in front, there can be contact there,” he explained.
“When the ball is further out and you don’t know who is going to field the ball, it comes into the play whether the runner is obstructed.”
Martinez’s complaint as he understood it? “That the catcher had the right [to] field the ball,” Timmons said.
All the drama could have been avoided if the Nationals managed to bring in a second run in the top of the ninth inning, when they scored a run and had runners on first and third base with one out, but it didn’t work out that way.
“We had a guy on third base, less than two outs, I thought we’d get the job done,” Martinez said. “We didn’t get that big hit, that big fly ball, so we had to continue to play.”
And the decision to go with the five-man infield when Harper seemingly would have had a shot at the runner coming home from third in the tenth if Harper wasn’t at first base?
“That’s kind of the risk you have to take,” Martinez said. “I’ve seen it work, both [ways], I’ve seen guys hit hard ground balls to turn double plays. It’s just the risk. You got Sierra, who can fly on third base. We’re moving Michael in as far as we could move him, the ball barely is fair, so it’s just like I said, a tough break.”
With the five-man infield, Martinez said, he was just trying, “ to get a ground ball. We’ve got to stop a run from scoring, that’s the thing. That’s my decision to bring — we get a ground ball, try to get the guy out at home.”