The “neighborhood play” — where the middle infielder catches the ball off the bag, throws to first base in an attempt to both avoid an incoming runner and complete a double-play, and is nonetheless given credit for the force out — is not reviewable by instant replay. And this makes perfect sense as, if it were, some manager would force replay officials to note that, no, technically speaking the bag was not tagged and the runner was thus safe, thereby creating an incentive for middle infielders to stick in longer and have their knees mangled.
But in last night’s Braves-Mets game there was a play that looked an awful lot like a neighborhood play turned by the Braves which was challenged by Mets manager Terry Collins. And, upon review, the initial call of a force out at second was overturned.
Watch the play here. If you can’t watch it, know that, in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied and a runner on first, the Mets’ Juan Lagares dropped a sacrifice bunt attempt down the third-base line. Braves third baseman Chris Johnson fielded it and fired to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, covering second base. Simmons stretched to receive the throw, dodged the baserunner and then fired to first base. The baserunner coming from first was ruled out on the force, while Lagares beat the throw at first. If you watch the play, it looks an awful lot like a neighborhood play.
Except Terry Collins challenged the call at second, arguing that Simmons didn’t keep his foot on the bag through his catch. And the umpires reviewed it, the repay showed that Simmons’ foot was off the bag and everyone was called safe. Fredi Gonzalez came out to argue and was ejected. Major League Baseball issued a statement after the game:
“The replay regulations allow umpires to determine if they considered a play to be a neighborhood play or not, based on a variety of factors. Some of the factors they consider are the throw and if the player receiving the ball is making the turn. Umpires might consider whether it was an errant throw or if a player receiving a throw who is not at risk of contact made an effort to touch the bag.”
Again, watch the play and try to tell me that Simmons was not trying to avoid a runner bearing down. The umpires said after the game that Simmons was not moving off the bag to protect himself, but that he was really set up like a first baseman and was really trying to get an errant throw. But watch again: the throw was perfectly on-target. At worst Simmons was doing what a lot of first baseman and taking a step off as he fielded the throw. What he was likely thinking and doing on instinct, however, was coming off the bag to make a turn and fire to first, just like he and every other middle infielder is trained to do in order to, you know, not have his ACLs ripped apart.
This didn’t end up mattering in the outcome of the game, but it was a bad call. At the very least it will inspire managers to challenge more of these plays, undercutting the rule about neighborhood plays not being reviewable (“Hey, just trying to see if it was a neighborhood play in the first place!”). At worst, it will create an incentive for middle infielders to stick on the bag longer to the detriment of their safety.