Baseball - Sacrifice Fly Rule

Being a baseball fan for close to 30 years, I’m very familiar with the sacrifice fly rule. But there’s one scenario that I’m not sure about. I think that the best way to ask my question is to describe a hypothetical game situation…plus it’s more fun that way.

It’s Game 7 of the 2006 ALCS, and the New York Yankees are hosting the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox lead 1-0 as the Yankees bat in the bottom the 9th, after brilliant pitching performances by Chien-Ming Wang and Curt Schilling.

With Jonathan Papelbon unavailable due to injury, and the remainder of the Red Sox bullpen in shambles, Terry Francona elects to have Schilling close out the game and give the Sox the right to beat up on the NL “champion” New York Mets in the World Series. Of course, the Yankees would prefer to perform the Met-beating, and believe they have a good chance with the top of the order: Damon, Jeter, and Rodriguez due up.

Damon strikes out on a nasty splitter from Schilling. 1 out.

Jeter then takes a hanging splitter deep into the left-center field gap, and motors to 3rd base with a stand-up triple.

All Alex Rodriguez has to do is hit a fly ball to the outfield to tie the game, and keep the ungrateful Yankee “fans” off of his back for the moment. The real Yankee fans already understand his greatness and would never boo him.

A-Rod hits the first pitch, a 97 mph fastball, directly back at the forehead of Schilling. The ball bounces off of Schilling’s head with such velocity that it looks like it will drop into very short left field, just over the head of 3rd baseman Mike Lowell. Jeter begins to race home to score the tying run. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Lowell adjusts and runs quickly to make a diving over-the-shoulder grab at the edge of the outfield grass, and A-Rod is out.

But the Yankees have still tied the game up…or have they?

The Red Sox appeal to the 3rd base umpire, claiming that Jeter left 3rd base too early, prior to Lowell’s catch, in violation of the sacrifice fly rule.

But the Yankees argue that Jeter was free to go home once the ball hit Schilling on the forehead, even if Schilling isn’t the one who caught the ball.

What is the correct call for the 3rd base ump?

Sox-Mets Series! My favorite.

'Cuz Jeter can’t leave before the catch (not contact) is made.


What’s to stop a player, or two players, from bouncing the ball off their heads (or bare hands) all the way to the infield before making the catch? Besides the difficulty level of course?

I’d say he is out. From the rule book

Sounds to me like a clear violation of Rule 7.10:

The only argument is what constitutes a “fly ball.” As far as I’ve always understood it and played it, a ball is considered a fly (or line drive or otherwise subject to these rules) if it makes a path from the bat to a fielder without touching the ground. So, you could hit it off someone’s leg or head or juggle the ball in the outfield, but as long as someone maintains possession and control of it before it hits the ground, it’s an out and subject to fly ball rules.

I believe that demonstrating control of the ball (by juggling it or bouncing it back and forth) indicates that a catch has been made. Unless you pretend to be trying to catch it all the time, which is unlikely to convince the umpires.

This subject is addressed in a comment appended to Rule 2.00, the definition of a “catch”.

Ah ha. So, wait, that means the Yankees were right and Jeter should not have been out, right?

I should know better than to quote one section of the rules without referencing the other ones. There’s always exceptions in baseball.

Yes, as long as he tagged after the forehead carom, he’d be OK.

The runner can leave as soon as contact with the ball is made. The rational I’ve always heard for this is that otherwise an outfielder could take a deep catch and bobble/juggle it while racing back to the infield; if the runner had to remain on base until the ball is actually caught, he couldn’t score, which seems unfair. Or a daring outfielder could simply thwack the ball with his glove, keeping it in the air and sailing it to the shortstop to make the catch on the infield, preventing a runner from advancing until the catch is made by SS.

Good point, which I assumed, but which I forgot to denote in the OP.

Outstanding question, OP and answers. God I love the SD.

So if Jeter is taking a lead off third when the ball is hit and he takes off for home (without tagging third) because he assumes the ball coming off Shilling’s noggin is going to drop in without being caught, then he’s out on appeal. However, if he goes back and touches third and then takes off for home before Lowell catches the ball then the run counts, correct?

Next question: Does Shilling get credit for an assist?

Now, I have a terrible mental image of Schilling laying on his back with a big welt on his forehead.

Jeter has taken off for home. On appeal, the third base ump calls him out for leaving early. Red Sox Nation is going berserk.

. . .so berserk, in fact, that they fail to miss the ensuing umpire conference where the home plate ump explains rule 2.00 to the third base ump, and the Yanks are back in the series. Where’s the pukey smiley?

He’s out, because A-Rod, in a desperate attempt to make up for 2004, races out to left field and slaps the ball out of Lowell’s glove.

As long as we admit that it really doesn’t matter, because Cabrera then grounds out, and Ortiz takes the first pitch of the 10th inning out of the park, Schilling shakes off the injury like the Iron Man he is, strikes out the side, and the Sox win and all is right with the world.

Huh? The rule quoted indicates that it’s a catch “if the ball is finally held by any fielder.” (italics added). You usually need to have the ball in your hands to hold it (though you could hold it in your elbow or under your arm under some circustances, I suppose – but that was not specified).

Schilling clearly did not hold the ball.

It was not a catch until Lowell gets the ball and thus Jeter left too early (though, IRL, I can’t imagine Jeter being stupid enough to run before the ball touches the ground or is caught). I can’t imagine how anyone could interpret it any other way.

In that case, A-Rod would be out for interference, and the play would be dead. IIRC, Jeter would have to return to the last base he legally occupied before the interference(which would be third).

Read the rule again:

Jeter is safe.

and now *I *have a mental image of (after the umps blow the call so Sox win) the rest of the team carrying Schilling’s unconcious body around on their shoulders in triumph, just like Homer Simpson after he won the softball game.