CHICAGO -- It's taken nearly seven months, hours of video review, discussions with umpires, managers and other catchers, but the Cubs' Welington Castillo and John Baker believe they finally understand Rule 7.13 after some hands-on guidance from Joe Torre.
Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, stopped by Citi Field when the Cubs played the Mets there earlier in August. Chicago coach Mike Borzello, the team's catching specialist, asked the Hall of Fame manager and former big league catcher for clarification. And it paid off on Friday against the Orioles.
The confusion began in February when MLB announced it was adopting experimental Rule 7.13, covering collisions at home plate. What Borzello and the catchers wanted help with is the second part of the rule, which states: "Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe."
The rule puts catchers at a disadvantage, Borzello said.
"We're giving a lane [to the runner], and most players are sliding headfirst outside the lane at an arm's length distance," Borzello said. "So now we're talking about two lanes. I wanted [Torre] to explain to me, if I catch the ball where I'm supposed to, how am I going to be able to catch and then have enough time to reach a guy who is now two lanes away from me?
"[The runner is] not in the lane I'm giving him, he's outside that lane, with his arm sliding by home plate trying to touch it with his hand," Borzello said. "I just feel like [the rule has] obviously helped the offensive side. It's protected the catchers, which is obviously the reason they put the rule in, and I understand that, and I get it. But it's working against [the catchers]."
Torre stood up in the visitors' clubhouse, and he did a demonstration.
"What we were told," Baker said, "was that if our left foot is in fair territory, not touching the base line, then we're offering a lane for the player to slide. If the ball is thrown and we make a read on that ball, and that ball takes us into the base line, then we won't be found at fault for trying to block the plate."
And Baker did just that in the fifth inning on Friday. The Orioles had two outs and runners at second and first when Caleb Joseph lined a single to right. Ryan Sweeney threw a strike home to Baker, who was perfectly positioned and made the tag on the runner, Chris Davis.
The Orioles challenged the call, but Baker said he knew he was in the right place.
"When the ball is hit to the outfield, you have time to walk up in front of home plate and look down at the ground and find your bearings and set yourself in the right position, and then wait for the ball to be thrown," Baker said. "That's exactly what I did.
"I walked up, I looked and made sure my left foot started inside that line," he said. "Once the ball was in the air, the ball took me a little bit into the line, and I was 100 percent confident after the conversation we had [with Torre] that I was in the right place, and I knew they weren't going to overturn the play.
"If I had messed that one up, then we would've really been unclear. I feel like we're in a really good place now as far as understanding where we need to stand."
"I think it will help me in the future because now I know exactly where I need to be and we'll have no problems," Castillo said.
Baker and Castillo both are in favor of Rule 7.13.
"I think it's helped reduce injury on plays at the plate, for sure," Baker said. "The only criticism I have of the rule is that, because we can't stand in the base line, the baserunners don't have to stay in any sort of lane, either. They can slide around and hook slide. If they can hook slide and we can't stand in the lane, they're not using the lane that we're giving them.
"In the future, one of the things they could do to make this rule more fair is that if we're not allowed to block the plate, they're not allowed to hook slide around home plate," he said. "It would be just like third base or second base, where you have to slide to the base. And if you go past, you're out."
The Dodgers' Yasiel Puig took advantage of the extra space in the sixth inning on Aug. 1, when he dove around Castillo to score on a wild play at the plate.
On Friday, Baker talked to crew chief Fieldin Culbreth. He's also discussed it with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, and any other catcher he can find.
"It's simple when you know, 'This is where you get to stand,'" Baker said. "Maybe one day they will draw some sort of new chalk line in front of home plate that will be the catcher's position, like a goal box in soccer. I know that would make a lot of baseball purists angry, I'm sure. But if that's what it's going to take to get the rules right, let's do it. I think uncertainty is the biggest enemy here."
Players knew about Rule 7.13 in Spring Training. Why weren't the details made clear then?
"I think we were all a little foggy on the [rule]," Borzello said. "Now, it's almost seeing the plays happen and saying, 'Wait a minute.' It had to happen visually, and I think maybe for them as well. I'm just watching plays at the plate happen and saying, 'We have to be able to do more than this.'"
And now they know.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less