TORONTO -- As written, the Official Rules of Baseball can occasionally be difficult to decipher, the language convoluted and the logic difficult to follow.
This was not one of those times. The rule is 5.09. The relevant subsection is (b). It states:
"The ball becomes dead and runners advance one base, or return to their bases, without liability to be put out when (b) the plate umpire interferes with the catcher's throw attempting to prevent a stolen base or retire a runner on a pick-off play; runners may not advance."
What does all that have to do with Boston's 9-7 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays here Tuesday night? Plenty, as it turns out.
Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said that when he cocked his arm to make a bases-loaded throw to first base in the third inning, his elbow struck the mask of plate umpire Clint Fagan. The ball sailed well beyond the reach of Sox first baseman Mike Napoli, two runs scored on the play, and eventually so did a third.
The play did not decide the game. The Sox eventually wiped out that 4-0 deficit and took a 7-6 lead before falling 9-7 to the Blue Jays. But Saltalamacchia admitted afterward that had he known the rule, he wouldn't have let the play go unchallenged.
"My elbow hit the umpire's mask, which I've done in the past, but no one has ever said anything, so I didn't make a stink about it because I didn't really know the ruling on it," Saltalamacchia said. "Now I know, once it hits his mask it's got to be a dead ball.
"It definitely hit, but [that is] part of the game, apparently."
Saltalamacchia said he discussed the play with Fagan after manager John Farrell had gone out to discuss the play in between innings with the umpire. Farrell said he didn't realize immediately what had happened.
"Not immediately at the time," Farrell said. "It was a bang-bang play, a quick reaction play on his part, and then after thinking the direction of the ball, Salty's a little more accurate than that. And that's when, after the inning, I asked [Fagan] what he had on the play, and he said he thought his elbow hit him after [Saltalamacchia] threw the ball and he was recoiling. He didn't see it the way we saw it."
Farrell relayed to Saltalamacchia the umpire's version, that the Sox catcher had hit the mask on his follow through.
"Kind of impossible," Saltalamacchia said. "I tried to tell him that. He said, "Well, I thought you did.' I told him that when my arm is going back I felt it hit you. At that point, I was already getting ready to go forward, and I couldn't hold up."
Saltalamacchia said the same thing has happened in "spring training, big league games. Mainly it's the backpick to first. You jump up real quick. He's trying to see the pitch all the way in, and [the arm] hits his mask. Usually, I'm able to kind of stop. But at that point, I was trying to get the backpick and get an out for Jonny [Lester]."
The umpire didn't say anything immediately after the play, Saltalamacchia said; not that he was obliged to.
"I didn't hear anybody say anything. Like I said, if I had to do it all over again, I definitely would have made a stink about it and got us at least a try at it."
Making it even more aggravating for the Sox catcher, he thought the play had a chance to work, too. Jose Bautista, who was on first base, had taken a big lead.
"He was getting off pretty good," Saltalamacchia said. "He didn't start heading back until I was ready to throw it. So I think we probably had a good shot at him."