Victor Martinez's controversial home run

The umpires review Victor Martinez's seventh inning home run, October 8, 2013 - Rob Carr

Victor Martinez cleared the fence when the Tigers needed it most, but a fan made sure the ball was not caught.

John Bendzinski became a Detroit hero, or a near goat, depending on your perspective when he reached over the railing to help Victor Martinez's fly ball avoid Josh Reddick's glove.  The cameras had a few perspectives, and the umpires judged that he did not interfere with the ball and sustained the home run call.

We tried to prepare for the playoffs with a front-row primer, but apparently it needs an update.  The understanding has always been that the fans have the right to the ball once it crosses the imaginary vertical plan extending up from the railing.  In other words, if a fan is not reaching over the railing, the fan has the right to the ball.  But if the fan reaches over the railing, interference may be called.  The pundits' consensus on the Victor Martinez home run is that the ball would have landed over the yellow line without Bendzinski's help, and therefore would have been a home run.  Thus there was no interference.

However had Bendzinksi not reached over the railing, Josh Reddick may have caught the ball.  Reddick was not in the stands, but his glove was higher than the yellow line.  Is this a variation of the interference rule?  It seems there is now an additional concern.  If the ball is heading into the seats but the opponent's outfielder can catch it, and you are in the front row, you should reach out and snatch the ball before the outfielder can get leather on it.

Is this really what baseball intends?  Think of places with a low outfield railing, such as the left field corner in Dodger Stadium.  An outfielder can camp under a fly ball at the wall and catch what would otherwise easily be a home run.   Does this mean that if a fan reaches out over the rail, puts his hand in front of the outfielder's glove, and deflects the ball into the stands that it is a home run?

Old Tiger Stadium had the opposite case.  A fan in the front row of the overhanging right field porch could reach over the railing and catch a fly ball that would otherwise have been caught by the right fielder, twenty feet below him.  It was an uncontroversial home run.

The Tigers may not have needed VMart's solo home run.  They won by two runs after all.  John Bendzinski did what most fans would do.  When the baseball happened in travel near him, he reached for it.  He did not analyze the situation, and if it had been hit by the A's he would likely have had the same reaction.  But if the Tigers win the series, it will go down in history as the turning point in the series.

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