2014 Preview: with a new rule, plate collisions will be a thing of the past . . . maybe

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In addition to expanded replay, another significant change is in place for the 2014 season: a new rule intended to cut down on collisions at home plate. The sort of which led to Buster Posey’s broken leg a few years ago and countless catcher concussions over the years. The basics of the rule are as follows:

  • A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the Umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the Umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball).
  • Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.

It’s not a perfect rule. Many assumed, before it was announced, that the rule would prevent catchers from ever blocking home plate, whether they have the ball or not. As of now they can still do it as long as they have the ball. If so — and if the runner isn’t overly obvious in his efforts to knock the ball loose — we will still likely see some serious physical contact at the plate, with a ball-possessing catcher being hit by a plate-seeking runner.

Still, it’s something. It will prevent runners from lowering that shoulder and hitting a sitting duck catcher. And it will prevent catchers from setting up as some sort of fortification guarding the plate as they wait for a throw. Injuries should be reduced.

I say “should” because, unlike the replay rule, there is considerably more uncertainty as to how this rule will play out in practice.  Just yesterday, while watching the Tigers-Braves spring training game, ESPN commentator, former catcher and former manager Eric Wedge said that, were he on the field, he’d still block the plate without the ball. His thinking: make a tag any way you can and put the onus on the umpire put a run back on the board if he decides you violated the rule. It’s not irrational to think you can get away with it sometimes given how many things an ump has to look at on such plays and given that, under this rule, you are allowed to block the plate sometimes. It’s possible some baserunners will think the same thing and try to knock balls loose in more subtle ways than before.

I predict that we’ll get more contentious and controversial plays out of this new rule than the replay rule. But as baseball officials will always tell you, they’d prefer incremental change over wholesale change and then tweak later if necessary. There will probably be some tweaking in the future.

Sean Manaea thought he was throwing a one hitter

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Tossing a no-hitter doesn’t just require physical excellence; it’s a mental feat, too. Which is why it may have helped that Athletics hurler Sean Manaea didn’t realize his no-hitter was intact until the eighth inning of Saturday’s 3-0 win over the Red Sox.

While the first few innings passed uneventfully, Sandy Leon managed to reach base in the fifth inning after skying a ball to shallow center field. It wasn’t a clean hit, of course — shortstop Marcus Semien dropped the ball on the catch and was promptly charged with an error to preserve Manaea’s no-hit bid.

That was news to Manaea, who told reporters that he didn’t realize he still had a no-hitter going until he saw the scoreboard in the eighth inning. “Until the eighth, I thought it just like was a one-hitter,” he said. “I looked up in the eighth and saw there were still zeros and was like, whoa, weird.” The delay of that realization may have calmed his nerves as he continued to blank the best team in baseball, eventually capping his 108-pitch, 10-strikeout effort in the ninth.

A few fun facts about the feat:

  • Manaea’s no-hitter was the 12th of its kind in franchise history, dating back to Weldon Henley’s no-no against the St. Louis Browns in 1905.
  • The most recent pitcher to do so for the A’s was fellow left-hander Dallas Braden, who completed the club’s second-ever perfect game against the Rays in 2010. Surprisingly, Manaea managed to make even more efficient use of his pitch count than Braden did during his perfecto; he fired just 108 pitches against the Red Sox, a hair under the 109 pitches used by Braden against the Rays.
  • Manaea himself, however, is just the seventh Athletics pitcher (and third lefty) to toss a no-hitter. Legendary southpaw Vida Blue pitched two no-nos for the team, including a combined no-hitter that also featured Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers against the 1975 California Angels.
  • Until Saturday, the Red Sox had the second-longest streak without being no-hit in the majors, at 3,987 games… a record that was only eclipsed by the A’s own streak.
  • With a 17-2 record and .895 winning percentage, the Red Sox were the most successful team to be no-hit in major-league history. Prior to Saturday’s loss, they averaged 6.4 runs per game and had yet to be shut out by any team in 2018.
  • Since 1908, 46 no-hitters have been pitched against AL East teams: four against the Blue Jays, five against the Rays, eight against the Yankees, 13 against the Red Sox and 16 against the Orioles. Mariners lefty Chris Bosio was the last pitcher to no-hit the Red Sox, a feat he accomplished almost exactly 25 years ago on April 22, 1993.