Chicago Cubs: The Kris Bryant triple play that wasn’t

Why Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant’s catch wasn’t subject to review.

When is a non-triple play a triple play? When an umpire says so, obviously. As the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds discovered during Wednesday’s ballgame, not everything these days is subject to replay review.

With the bases full of Reds and none out, Shogo Akiyama hit a low liner that  Kris Bryant dove for. When third base umpire Larry Vanover signaled a catch for an out, Bryant picked himself up, touched third, doubling off Nick Senzel, who was well on his way to home plate. Bryant then threw to Anthony Rizzo at first to triple off Tucker Barnhart, who had broken for second.

Replays later appeared to show that Bryant actually caught the ball on a very short hop, a fact that would have negated Vanover’s original ‘out’ call and brought the entire triple play into question.

But the rules of replay do not permit review of infield line drives, so the Reds were left without a challenge and the call stood.

Although MLB officials have not commented on why infield line drives are not among the list of calls eligible for replay review, the explanation appears to lie with what might be termed equity.

Assuming that Vanover’s initial call of a catch on the fly was incorrect and would have been overturned on review, then what?

The MLB replay rules stipulate that in the event a call is overturned, “the replay official shall exercise his discretion to place both clubs in the position they would have been in had the call on the field been correct.”

But that would have raised an equally ticklish question: what would have happened had Vanover’s call been correct?

The Cubs certainly could argue that Bryant’s actions in touching third subsequent to his catch/non-catch were directly influenced by Vanover’s ‘out’ call. Had Vanover ruled the runner ‘safe,’ Bryant would have had the option of touching third to force Freddy Galvis, the runner on second at the time. But it is a matter of speculation whether Bryant would have had time to retire Barnhart at second, and unlikely that he would have gotten Akiyama at first.

Or in theory, at least, he might also have tried to throw home for a force at the plate, or thrown to second base in a likely vain attempt at turning a double play.

According to the rules, that would have put the replay umpire official in the awkward position of attempting to guess what Bryant would have done had Vanover signaled ‘no catch’ initially.

And the recognition that an overturn in that situation would have led to a series of speculative decisions is probably the closest we’ll ever come to an explanation for why the rules do not permit review of the validity of catch/no-catch calls on infield line drives.

In that vein,  it’s worth noting that although this particular call favored the Cubs, it might just as easily have worked the other way. Had Bryant actually made the shoestring catch, but Vanover ruled it ‘no-catch,’ a replay overturn might have put the reviewing official in the position of imposing a triple play when the Reds could have argued that the incorrect call forced their runners to break for the next base.

In short, low infield liners are no-win propositions for replay officials.

The bottom line is this: Larry Vanover likely missed the call. Deal with it.