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August 17, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Friday night, the Yankees won the game in bizzare fashion, with slumping third baseman Aaron Boone hitting a three-run home run in the top of the ninth to erase a 3-2 deficit, and ultimately give the Yankees the win. This result was so unbelievable that I could only respond with a "tall tale", which unexpectedly earned me a Clutch Hit, perhaps the most bizzare result of the night.

Well, that game had nothing on this one. From start to finish, this game was about as bizzare as they come.

I, for one, looked at the game pessimistically. With David Wells' sciatica acting up, the Yankees were forced to start Sterling Hitchcock. On one hand, Sterling Hitchcock is not a horrible pitcher, but on the other hand, he's not a particularly good one, either. If the Yankees didn't score runs off of Orioles' starter Pat Hentgen, it seemed that the Yankees would have little chance of winning.

And they didn't score runs off of Hentgen, at least not very many. In six innings, they were only able to get five hits, and push two runs across. Going into this game, it appeared that this would be nowhere near enough to stay in this game. Surely the Orioles would score far more than two runs off of Hitchcock.

They certainly got off to a good start in the first inning, putting runners on second and third with one out. At this point, things turned bizzare, though it would take a while for it to become apparent. Batting fourth for the O's, Tony Batista flew out to center field, scoring Deivi Cruz and giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead. Jay Gibbons followed with a groundout to first base, and the inning was over.

One problem: Tony Batista was listed as the fifth hitter in the Orioles lineup, and Gibbons was listed as fourth. But Joe Torre was not paying proper attention, and did not appeal, legalizing the result. Nothing was said until Mike Hargrove acknowledged the error to the umpires in the third inning (the umpires were forbidden by rule 6.07 (d) (2): The umpire shall not direct the attention of any person to the presence in the batter's box of an improper batter). Later in the game, Gibbons would bat fourth as originally listed, and at this point, Joe Torre piped up. Should not the order in which the Orioles originally batted be the legitimate order from that point forward? No, the umpires said, the lineup on the lineup card was official, regardless of what happened. Rule 6.07 says:

(a) A batter shall be called out, on appeal, when he fails to bat in his proper turn, and another batter completes a time at bat in his place.

(b) When an improper batter becomes a runner or is put out, and the defensive team appeals to the umpire before the first pitch to the next batter of either team, or before any play or attempted play, the umpire shall (1) declare the proper batter out; and (2) nullify any advance or score made because of a ball batted by the improper batter or because of the improper batter's advance to first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter or otherwise. NOTE: If a runner advances, while the improper batter is at bat, on a stolen base, balk, wild pitch or passed ball, such advance is legal.

(c) When an improper batter becomes a runner or is put out, and a pitch is made to the next batter of either team before an appeal is made, the improper batter thereby becomes the proper batter, and the results of his time at bat become legal.

(d) (2) When an improper batter becomes a proper batter because no appeal is made before the next pitch, the next batter shall be the batter whose name follows that of such legalized improper batter. The instant an improper batter's actions are legalized, the batting order picks up with the name following that of the legalized improper batter. The umpire shall not direct the attention of any person to the presence in the batter's box of an improper batter. This rule is designed to require constant vigilance by the players and managers of both teams. There are two fundamentals to keep in mind: When a player bats out of turn, the proper batter is the player called out. If an improper batter bats and reaches base or is out and no appeal is made before a pitch to the next batter, or before any play or attempted play, that improper batter is considered to have batted in proper turn and establishes the order that is to follow.

APPROVED RULING To illustrate various situations arising from batting out of turn, assume a first inning batting order as follows:

PLAY (3). Abel walks. Baker walks. Charles forces Baker. Edward bats in Daniel's turn. While Edward is at bat, Abel scores and Charles goes to second on a wild pitch. Edward grounds out, sending Charles to third. The defensive team appeals (a) immediately or (b) after a pitch to Daniel.

RULING: (a) Abel's run counts and Charles is entitled to second base since these advances were not made because of the improper batter batting a ball or advancing to first base. Charles must return to second base because his advance to third resulted from the improper batter batting a ball. Daniel is called out, and Edward is the proper batter; (b) Abel's run counts and Charles stays on third. The proper batter is Frank.

PLAY (4). With the bases full and two out. Hooker bats in Frank's turn, and triples, scoring three runs. The defensive team appeals (a) immediately, or (b) after a pitch to George.

RULING: (a) Frank is called out and no runs score. George is the proper batter to lead off the second inning; (b) Hooker stays on third and three runs score. Irwin is the proper batter.

PLAY (5). After Play (4) (b) above, George continues at bat. (a) Hooker is picked off third base for the third out, or (b) George flies out, and no appeal is made. Who is the proper leadoff batter in the second inning?

RULING: (a) Irwin. He became the proper batter as soon as the first pitch to George legalized Hooker's triple; (b) Hooker. When no appeal was made, the first pitch to the leadoff batter of the opposing team legalized George's time at bat.
When Batista batted in place of Gibbons, had the Yankees appealed after the sac fly, but before the next pitch, Gibbons would have been out, and Batista would have to bat again, with two outs. But the Yankees did not appeal, and the sac fly counted.

Now, here's the interesting part. Once the play by Batista was legalized, the proper batter was NOT Gibbons, it was Fordyce. Had Gibbons singled, the Yankees could have appealed that HE was batting out of order. But they didn't appeal, and Gibbons became the proper batter.

Wait, that's not all. In the top of the second, Brook Fordyce came up, and popped out to third. But HE wasn't the proper batter--Batista was. Had Fordyce gotten on, the Yankees could have appealed THAT, and Batista would have been out, and Fordyce would have to bat again. When the Yankees did not appeal that, Fordyce's at bat became legal, and Leon was the proper hitter after the first pitch he saw. From that point on, there was nothing more to appeal.

(Insert criticism about Joe Torre not knowing the rules despite getting paid millions of dollars to manage the team)

Had the Yankees lost by one run, or lost in extra innings, this failure to pay attention could have cost the Yankees the game (assuming Batista didn't get a hit in his second shot in the first). But Sterling Hitchcock never imploded, he pitched quite well, giving up only three runs through six. But Hitchcock's was not the only unexpected performance of the game. John Flaherty, catching in place of Jorge Posada, hit not one, but TWO home runs, the second to tie the game in the top of the seventh. The Yankees took the lead in the eighth when Hideki Matsui's single scored Jason Giambi, and took a 4-3 lead, and a chance to win the first three games of this series, into the bottom of the ninth. But the bizzareness continued, as Luis Matos hit Mariano Rivera's third pitch into the left field stands, tying the game at four.

In the tenth, the Yankees and Orioles both went quietly, but in the top of the eleventh, the Yankees mounted a rally. Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui walked, to lead off the inning, and Joe Torre sacrificed Aaron Boone to move them to second and third (which, despite Boone's HR and two hits in this game, might not be a ridiculous play in this situation). But the decision Torre followed this with was odd, pinch hitting Ruben Sierra for David Dellucci, depite the fact that the Orioles were certain to intentionally walk whoever was up, as they did. Torre then pinch-ran Karim Garcia for Sierra, making Sierra's apppearance in the game wholly pointless (and yet, it would pay off in the end).

John Flaherty had hit two home runs, but Joe Torre knew that his chances were greater with Jorge Posada in the game, and pinch-hit him. The Yankees announcers talked about how it was Jorge's birthday, and how he had a great chance to celebrate his birthday with a game-winning hit. Except his birthday is Sunday. Must be a night for clerical errors.

Anway, the point was moot, because Posada struck out, and Alfonso Soriano (whose OBP is .220 in his last 123 PAs) grounded out to third. Fortunately, the Yankees avoided losing the game in the bottom of the 11th, and in the top of the 12th, Jason Giambi his a long home run to center to give the Yankees the lead.

But the most bizzare thing to happen was yet to come. After retiring the first two Orioles in the bottom of the 12th, Jeff Nelson walked pinch-hitter Jack Cust. CBS Sportsline describes what followed:
Larry Bigbie: Ball, Strike looking, Strike looking, Bigbie doubled to center, Cust out at home.
So, there you go.

Of course, it was much more bizzare than that. Bigbie's ball was cut off in the gap by Karim Garcia, who threw the ball into Alfonso Soriano in shallow right. Cust was running hard to third, and the Orioles' third base coach waved him home--but then stopped him late. Cust slipped while trying to stop, and Soriano threw behind him to Boone. But Boone couldn't handle the ball, knocking it back towards the pitcher's mound, and Cust got up and ran home. Boone fielded the ball and threw it to Posada at home plate, who then chased Cust back towards third.

At this point, the Yankees made a serious error. Nick Johnson had moved to the middle of the infield to cut off a throw home, and moved to cover third base, and Derek Jeter was standing in shallow right with Soriano, rather than covering second base (what prescence!). Johnson ran to back up third base, but Jeff Nelson, who should have been backing up home plate, also ran towards third ahead of Posada. When Posada threw the ball to Boone, home plate was completely uncovered, and there was nobody on the field closer to home plate than Cust, and while Boone is faster than the Orioles' young slugger, the distance between them was too great for Boone to catch him before the game was tied.

But fate saved the Yankees, as Cust slipped and fell on the grass just short of home plate, and tried to crawl home on his hands and knees. Rushing in to catch him, Boone fell to his knees as well, slapping the glove with the ball in it against Cust's side, ending the game in one of the most bizzare--and idiotic--fashions I have ever seen. The Orioles paid for the poor decision making of Tom Treblehorn, the third base coach, and the Yankees nearly paid for the foolishness of Jeff Nelson and Derek Jeter.

But in the end, it was a win, and the Yankees retained their four game lead in the AL East. With Mike Mussina facing Rodrigo Lopez in the series finale Sunday afternoon, they have an excellent opportunity to sweep the series. However, they really need Moose to pitch deep, because their bullpen is somewhat spent, and they do not have an off day for several days. But today, they came away with a win they should not have expected, and provided one of the more entertaining games of the season.