When Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez hit a game-tying home run in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday, changing momentum in Game 4 of the American League Division Series between Detroit and Oakland, a lot of Orioles fans were surely taken back to 1996.
Martinez’s hit, which tied the game at 4 in the Tigers’ eventual 8-6 series-tying win that forced a decisive Game 5 on Thursday, was interfered with by a fan in the first row of the right-field stands at Comerica Park. Umpires initially ruled the hit a home run, and upheld their decision after replay review.
The play immediately conjured up memories of that fly ball by Derek Jeter in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series at the old Yankee Stadium, when Jeffrey Maier interfered with a ball in right field that was ruled a home run. After Jeter’s home run off the Orioles' Armando Benitez tied the game in the eighth, the Yankees went on to win Game 1 in 11 innings, won the ALCS in five games and won their first of four World Series in five seasons.
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In its postgame show Monday night, TBS was quick to make the connection, replaying the Maier play. Interestingly, today is the 17thanniversary of that incident.
But that interference was much different than Monday’s play. Maier obviously reached over the right-field fence and into the field of play. Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco was camped under that ball.
Fast forward to Monday. It appears that Martinez’s ball would have landed above the yellow line that marks the home run boundary. Oakland right fielder Josh Reddick would have had to make a sensational play to catch the ball. Not only did he have to deal with a ball over the fence, but also a railing above it, and obviously, the fans behind it.
After the game, the question was whether Reddick truly had a shot to catch the ball. When right-field umpire Gary Darling made his initial ruling, he didn’t think so. And video review didn’t convince him otherwise.
"It was clear he was not going to catch the ball, so it was clearly going to be a home run," Darling, the crew chief, told a pool reporter. "There wasn't any other evidence on replay to turn it another way."
But Rule 3.16 of the Major League Baseball rule book, which states “if spectator interference clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out” addresses fan interference further.
“No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.”
So then it’s an interpretation of whether that railing part above the stands counts as “the playing side” of the fence. The way I interpret it is that the area above that yellow line constitutes the stands, so it is no different than when a fielder goes into the stands for a foul ball.
Simply put, the play is more like Steve Bartman than Jeffrey Maier.
And it tells me that if replay existed in 1996, the Maier play would have been overruled.
But what do you think?