Just when you thought the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs’ NL wild-card game on Tuesday night couldn’t get any weirder, we encountered one question that baseball never had to ponder before: Is hugging on the basepaths interference?
The Rockies and Cubs were in the 11th inning of a 1-1 game that would send one team home and one to the NLDS. The Cubs had runners at first and second base with one out. The stakes, you could say, were plenty high. Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was at the plate and grounded sharply to third base where Nolan Arenado scooped it up. Arenado ranged to his left, opting to chase down Javier Baez and tag him.
Baez, who is both quick and slick on the baseball field, tried to evade the out, but instead ended up in a little cat-and-mouse moment with Arenado. Baez surrendered, sticking out his arms and Arenado tagged him. Then they settled into a convenient bro hug.
Most people probably laughed at first — it was genuinely funny and one of those reasons they say you can’t predict baseball. There didn’t seem like any malicious intent. But baseball is also nothing if not a sport of whataboutism, so naturally Rockies manager Bud Black came out wondering if everything there was on the up-and-up there.
Think about it: the hug effectively stopped play. This isn’t football, where play stops when a runner is down. The other Cubs runners were still active. And that’s when the questions started popping up:
• What if Arenado would have been able to get another out to end the inning, like say, Contreras at first base?
• What if Contreras had fallen down on his way to first base and the Rockies couldn’t throw him out?
• What if Daniel Murphy, who was now on second base, raced toward third and Arenado couldn’t do anything because he was tangled in Baez’s warm embrace?
And the biggest one: Was it interference? Was it obstruction? Teams usually face a consequence when a base runner gets in the way like that. And, in that moment, the Rockies sure wouldn’t have minded a third out on a technicality.
Nothing came from Black’s huddle with the umpires. Baez was out, obviously. But the Cubs runners continued at first and second base. There didn’t end up being a huge impact on the game, as the next batter, Victor Caratini, grounded out to end the inning.
But if we learned anything, it would appear to be this: Hugging on the basepaths isn’t as innocent as it would appear.
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