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Common In-Game Calls

Appeal Play

An appeal play takes place when a member of the team in the field calls the attention of an umpire to an infraction he might otherwise have missed during the course of play.

Appeals question whether a runner tagged properly, touched a base the last time he passed or touched all the bases in order. To make an appeal, an infielder must have a live ball - thrown to him by the pitcher - and must tag the runner or base in question and inform the umpire of the infraction committed. The umpire then issues a ruling on the matter.

Because appeals are the responsibility of the defensive team, it's important that fielders and coaches make sure to watch everything that is happening on the field, as they cannot expect an umpire to rule in their favor without initiating an appeal.

Balk

No matter what level of play, when a pitcher makes a move away from the plate with runners on base, someone in the crowd is bound to yell, "Balk!" even if the pitcher has executed a textbook pick-off move.

That's because few fans and non-pitchers ever take the time to peruse Section 8.05 of the rule book, which addresses more than a dozen factors that determine whether an umpire will call a pitcher for a balk, an infraction that gives runners an extra base. Most balks occur with a fast runner on first base, when the pitcher, in an attempt to confuse the runner, does not come to a full stop in the stretch position before either throwing to first or to the plate.

The balk is an unusual call in the Majors, where pitchers have honed their pick-off moves over many years. At the youth level though, balks can be more commonplace. That's why coaches should understand the rule and work with pitchers to prevent balks.

Right-handed pitchers should learn to turn off the rubber with their right foot, plant with their left foot towards first and make the quick throw to the base. The best way to avoid committing a balk is to master a comfortable stretch position and to remain calm, regardless of how fast the runner may be. One way to deter aggressive runners is simply to vary the amount of time you hold onto the ball.

Umpires spend a lot of time in umpiring school learning the balk play. When they see a balk, they're taught to point at the pitcher and yell, "That's a balk! Time!"

The umpire should throw both hands in the air, point at the runner and then signal to the proceeding base. The purpose of this routine is not just to sell the call, but also to be as definitive as possible before making the call.

Balls That Hit a Runner

MLB Rule 7.08(f) states that any runner is out when he is touched by a fair batted ball in fair territory before the ball has touched or passed an infielder.

"That rule is in the rule book for a reason - when a ball is in an area where a field could field it, and it hits a runner while the field is behind him to make the play, then he's out," says longtime MLB umpire Jerry Layne. "But if a fielder has an opportunity to field the ball, and it hits the runner and there's no other fielder behind him, then it's nothing. So, the only time a runner in the infield is ever protected from being hit by a ball is if there's been an opportunity for somebody to field it and nobody's behind him, or if it's an infield fly, which is a pop-up, and it hits him while he's standing on the bag."

Batting Out of Order

It is the responsibility of the defensive team, not the umpire, to notice when a team has batted out of order. Contrary to popular belief, an out is called on the batter who was supposed to have hit, not the one who actually did.

Supposed Jean Segura leads off for Milwaukee and flies out. Ryan Braun - penciled into the Brewers batting order in the third spot - then bats out of turn in the No. 2 hole, hitting a double. Before a pitch is thrown to the next batter, a member of the defensive team asks the umpire to make a ruling. The defensive team must wait until after the incorrect batter's at-bat to make an appeal so that he is guaranteed an out; if the issue is mentioned before the at-bat is over, the hitter is replaced.

Since the proper batter after Segura was Logan Schafer and not Braun, Schafer is called out for failing to bat. Braun is removed from second base and his double is negated, but he comes at bat again, since he is now the proper batter.

Dropped Third Strikes

A batter is only out on strikes once the catcher legally catches the third strike. This guideline can be found in MLB Rule 6.05(b) and dates back to the early days of baseball. The exception to this rule is MLB Rule 6.09(b) and occurs when first base is occupied with less than two outs.

As a batter, you should be aware of these rules, since they might give you a second chance at safely reaching base. Instead of just walking back to the dugout after a strikeout when first base is open, double check to make sure the catcher caught the ball. Of course, you can do this even with a man on first, as long as there are two outs.

On a dropped third strike with the bases loaded and two outs, all the catcher needs to do is tag or step on home plate for get the third out. MLB Rule 6.09(b) states that the batter becomes the runner when a third strike is not caught with the first base unoccupied or with first base occupied and two outs. A force can be made at any base when the batter becomes a runner with the bases loaded.

Infield Fly

An infield fly, according to the Official Rules of Major League Baseball, is "a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by any infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second base - or first, second and third - are occupied with fewer than two outs. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielders who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule."

By yelling, "Infield fly!" - Usually while waving his arms - the umpire automatically rules the batter out, even if the ball is not caught. At the youth level, the umpire sometimes will yell, "Infield fly - batters out," to clarify his call for the players.

The purpose of the infield fly rule is to maintain fairness. When a ball is popped up in the infield, the runners assume that it will be caught and stay on the base. If no infield fly rule existed, the fielder could deliberately allow the ball to drop, forcing the runners to advance. In that situation, they'd likely be part of a double play, or even a triple play, because they lingered too long on the base before advancing. This differs from a fly ball to the outfield, when a runner can go halfway to get back to the bag safely of the ball is caught.

When a potential infield fly occurs, the umpire rules whether the ball could have ordinarily been handled by an infielder - not just within some arbitrary limitation such as the grass or the base lines. The umpire must also rule that a ball is an infield fly, even when handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire's judgement, the ball could have been just as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is not considered an appeal play. The umpire's judgment must govern, and the decision to call an infield fly should be made immediately.

When there is No Rule

One of the great things about baseball is the opportunity to witness something that has never happened before. Even though the game has been played for well over a century, situations still occur in the game when there is no applicable rule. 

One memorable example occurred in a 2001 Spring Training game in Tucson, Ariz. Randy Johnson, pitching for the Diamondbacks against the San Francisco Giants, unleashed a fastball at the very moment that a dove flew in front of home plate. The ball struck the bird, which flew over catcher Rod Barajas's head and landed a few feet from the plate amid a sea of feathers.

Bizarre plays such as this are not covered in the Official Rules. When a situation that is not included in the book arises during a contest, MLB Rule 9.01(c) comes into play. This rule gives an umpire the authority to make a judgment call on any point not specifically mentioned in the rule book. In such instances, the umpire is instructed to use common sense and fair play. In the Giants-Diamondbacks game, the umpires called it a no pitch, and the count remained the same, as precedent could not dictate otherwise.