Mattingly tripped up by hazy rules

July, 21, 2010
7/21/10
3:40
AM ET
You might have been in bed when it happened:
All-Star closer Jonathan Broxton intentionally walked pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff to load the bases in the ninth after Juan Uribe led off with an infield single, Edgar Renteria walked and both runners advanced on Aaron Rowand's sacrifice bunt.

Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly, who had to take over after the separate ejections of manager Joe Torre and bench coach Bob Schaefer, went to the mound for a chat with Broxton before Torres came up. Mattingly took a few steps back off the dirt toward the dugout before turning around and advising first baseman James Loney what depth to play at.

Bochy came out to protest to plate umpire Adrian Johnson that Mattingly's about-face constituted a second trip to the mound. The umpires huddled and agreed, and Broxton had to leave the game.

"It's an easy mistake to make. I saw it once he went back to say a few more words," said Bochy, who snared the Dodgers in the same trap in 2006 when he managed San Diego.

Back then, he caught then-Dodgers manager Grady Little making two trips to the mound to talk with Brad Penny, and got Penny out of the game.

--snip--

Mattingly said he knew the rule, but didn't realize he had left the dirt.

"I kind of had a feeling [it was a second trip] because Adrian was yelling 'No, no, no. You can't go back,' as I turned to talk to James," he said. "It cost us a chance to win the game."

Mattingly was forced to summon struggling George Sherrill, who promptly served up Torres' two-run double on an 0-1 pitch that gave the Giants a 6-5 lead.

Here's the part we didn't catch on TV: Adrian Johnson yelling at Mattingly that he couldn't return to the mound. Why would Johnson try to stop Mattingly from violating the rule?

Well, there's an interesting little twist in the rules that govern mound visits. The game doesn't want the manager to visit more than once ... and not just for the reason you think. Yes, the rule was initially added in 1967 to prevent the game from getting bogged down in endless visits from managers and pitching coaches. Head out there more than once, and you have to remove the pitcher.

But (and here comes the nifty twist) sometimes the game demands that a pitcher face a batter. To be precise, one batter. You bring in a new pitcher, I bring in a new hitter, and you're stuck: Your pitcher has to face my batter.

Ah, but what's to prevent an enterprising manager from simply visiting the mound twice, thus forcing you to remove your pitcher (and summon another who's more to your liking against this particular hitter)?

The rule, that's what. Here's a little-known (and rarely if ever applied) codicil to Rule 8.06 (which covers mound visits):
In a case where a manager has made his first trip to the mound and then returns the second time to the mound in the same inning with the same pitcher in the game and the same batter at bat, after being warned by the umpire that he cannot return to the mound, the manager shall be removed from the game and the pitcher required to pitch to the batter until he is retired or gets on base. After the batter is retired, or becomes a base runner, then this pitcher must be removed from the game.

So if you visit the mound twice, hoping to get your pitcher forcibly removed, you're out of luck. Instead you are out of the game, and your pitcher's stuck on the mound (for just one hitter, after which he does have to be replaced).

But now we've discovered the really interesting thing about Rule 8.06. First, it says if you visit the mound twice in the same inning with the same pitcher on the mound, you have to remove him; but then it says you might have to leave him in the game!

Honestly, it's after midnight and everybody's in bed and I just can't wrap my noggin around this one. If Adrian Johnson did warn (or try to warn) Mattingly, shouldn't Mattingly have been ejected from the game? And shouldn't Broxton have been allowed/forced to face Torres before retiring from the affair?

I'm probably missing something obvious. But I think this might have been a judgment call. Umpires do have some latitude, plus there are written guidelines that don't appear in the Official Rules available to the public. The umpires did huddle, and they might have decided that Johnson's warning wasn't enough of a warning to trigger that codicil. Or they might have decided to consider Mattingly's intention, which clearly was not to get Broxton out of the game. The point of Rule 8.06 is to keep the game moving without creating an opening for a manager to get a pitcher out of the game before he's faced a batter. The point of Rule 8.06 isn't to kick managers out of games.

You might not like the rule. It might seem silly, that a manager can't remember something on the way to the dugout, turn around and say a few more words to his pitcher (or whoever's on the mound). But those rules in the book, almost without exception, are there for pretty good reasons. And the guys wearing the uniforms are supposed to know them.

*************

OK, one more thing about this ... What constitutes a "visit," exactly? The rule says a visit has been concluded when the manager or coach when he "leaves the 18-foot circle surrounding the pitcher’s rubber."

That makes sense and is easy to see. But what if never enters that circle? What if the manager stops outside the circle, and the pitcher takes a few steps down the hill for their conversation? You might say the manager's visit began the moment he crossed the baseline, or started talking to his pitcher. But how can this visit officially end if he's never actually been inside that 18-foot circle?

Adrian Johnson had it relatively easy because Mattingly did everything the way it's usually done. But there seems to be a fair amount of room for interpretation that's yet to be explored.

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