New rule on collisions causing confusion

Cincinnati Reds left fielder Roger Bernadina (15) is tagged out at home plate by Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez (26) during the eighth inning at Great American Ball Park. The Reds won 4-0.

David Kohl/David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI — Major League Baseball decided to put the safety of its players at the forefront when it instituted an experimental rule this past offseason outlawing old school collisions at the plate. The ruling and interpretation still has some kinks to be worked out.

Reds runner Roger Bernadina was thrown out at home trying to score from third base on a ground ball to shortstop in the eighth inning of Wednesday’s 4-0 win against Pittsburgh at Great American Ball Park. Shortstop Jordy Mercer’s throw was in time and catcher Tony Sanchez applied the tag but the question of whether or not Sanchez illegally blocked the plate was immediately brought up.

Home plate umpire was Quinn Wolcott, a minor league call-up who worked the entire series with crew chief Gerry Davis and regulars Phil Cuzzi and Brian Knight, ruled Bernadina out and that Sanchez had not violated the new rule. A replay review of the play by officials in New York upheld Wolcott’s call despite the protests by Reds manager Bryan Price.

There are two key components to the rule:

— A runner may not run out of a direct line to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher, or any player, covering the plate. If he does, the umpire can call him out even if the player taking the throw loses possession of the ball.

— The catcher may not block the pathway of a runner attempting to score unless he has possession of the ball. If the catcher blocks the runner before he has the ball, the umpire may call the runner safe.

In Price’s mind it appeared that Sanchez’s first move on the play was block the entire baseline path to the plate. Neither Wolcott nor the MLB replay officials agreed. Managers may not challenge collision plays at the plate but the crew chief may seek the replay for confirmation or overrule.

"I completely fundamentally disagree because (Sanchez) straddled the entire plate that entire play," said Price. "There was no plate, there was nowhere to go. We’re being encouraged to tell our guys to slide, we’re trying to protect the catchers and this guy camped in front of the plate. Now we’re asking our base runner to make a split-second decision."

Even Sanchez thought the play would be overturned, although he didn’t think he had done anything fundamentally wrong.

"No one knows exactly what’s going on. Everyone’s confused," Sanchez told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It’s creating more nonsense than it should. Personally I’d rather go back to the way it was. I’ll take that hit right there, roll over, cross my fingers and hope nothing bad happens. That play right there, when he called him out, I was like, well, I was blocking the plate and they’re going to call him safe."

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During the Reds last road trip there was a play at the plate involving Billy Hamilton tagging up on a short fly ball to right field. He beat the throw of Cardinals’ outfielder John Jay and tag by catcher Yadier Molina. While the throw came from a farther distance out than Mercer’s throw from shortstop on Wednesday, the same premise holds that Molina had to give Hamilton a path to the plate until he had the ball in his possession.

Molina did such and with Hamilton’s speed it didn’t take much room for him to score past Molina’s swipe tag attempt.

Runners are being taught to slide into the plate now instead of running a catcher over.

Bernadina said in seasons past that he would’ve barreled into Sanchez on this type of play. In years past no one would’ve questioned him or Sanchez for how the play went. Not on Wednesday.

"I ran there and it seemed like he blocked the plate and I couldn’t go anywhere," said Bernadina. "Definitely with the new rule, I think they’re still trying to figure out how it works. The rule in the book says he’s not supposed to block the plate. I guess the umpire didn’t think it for whatever reason."

The play ultimately didn’t affect the outcome of the game. The Reds were already ahead 4-0. But at some point this season a game will almost assuredly come down to a play at the plate governed by the new rule.

"I think this is going to be a bone of contention as long as we have this rule," said Price. "We can’t have it both ways. We can’t try not to have contact with the catcher and also give the catcher the opportunity to completely smother the plate. It’s very convoluted at this point in time."