For the birds: Gull struck by winning hit
Choo's single deflected to push Indians past Royals
CLEVELAND -- What happens when a baseball strikes a seagull on the field? The ball is in play and, as it happened on Thursday night, the Cleveland Indians score the winning run to post a 4-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals.
This one for the book came in the 10th inning at Progressive Field with the Indians trying to break a tie with the Royals. Mark DeRosa singled and Victor Martinez walked against reliever Kyle Farnsworth.
Shin-Soo Choo singled sharply up the middle straight toward a flock of seagulls who were lounging in center field. The gulls, apparently in pursuit of bugs, had been swarming over the field during the entire series.
Choo's line drive kicked in the outfield grass, struck a bird, then skipped away and rolled all the way to the wall, as DeRosa scored the winning run from second base.
Center fielder Coco Crisp raised his arms in frustration, but there was no arguing the play. Umpire crew chief Mike Reilly confirmed that any ball striking one of the birds in fair territory is in play.
"They're in play -- whatever it does off that bird," Reilly said.
Crisp initially said he thought the ball hit a bird but wasn't sure. He was assured that it did, sending a feather flying. The bird, after the initial shock, was able to fly away.
"So it did hit a bird. Crazy things happen in this game," Crisp said. "That's why it's a great game."
Had Crisp been able to field the ball, would he have had a play at plate?
"I had a chance. You never know what the heck's going to happen. You catch the ball, make the throw, good or bad one, and sometimes you get 'em and most of the time you don't, especially from center field," Crisp said.
"But it was hit so sharply I felt like I had a chance."
Reilly, who was umpiring first base, thought that perhaps Crisp had a shot.
"Believe me, we talked about it when we came in. There probably would have been a play at the plate had not there been interference by the bird," Reilly said. "There's nothing we can do with those things."
Choo was happy that Crisp didn't have a chance to deprive him of the game-ending hit.
"I saw in the video that I hit the bird," Choo said. "The bird helped. I'll take it."
Indians manager Eric Wedge didn't think the ball hitting the bird had any impact on the outcome.
"I think DeRo was in pretty good shape there [to score], anyway," he said.
Tribe players and coaches were having a pretty good laugh about the bird after the game. But first baseman Ryan Garko said the joke is getting old. The seagulls have become season-ticket holders at Progressive Field the past two homestands -- flying overhead and resting in the outfield grass during play -- and Garko, for one, is tired of playing under and around them.
"Something needs to be done," Garko said. "There's got to be a way to get rid of them. It's kind of embarrassing. We look like a bunch of kids playing on an abandoned field. It's kind of funny but kind of not funny."
Garko said the birds hovering over the outfield grass can be distracting to a batter.
"You've got white things moving in the background," he said. "It looks like a baseball."
Sooner or later, it stood to reason that one of the birds would get struck, and it finally happened -- in a crucial situation, no less.
The bird struck by Choo's hit wobbled around for a while before finally gathering itself and taking flight again. It left behind a feather that was still sitting in the outfield grass after the victorious Indians cleared the field.
Reilly, speaking for the umpires, explained that a ball hitting a bird is in play wherever it falls.
"If it hits the bird and then comes down foul, it'd be a foul ball. If it hits the bird and stays fair, it'd be a fair ball -- catch off a bird or whatever," he said.
Would the umpires ever have a situation where they'd have to chase the gulls off the field?
"I never have but, boy, if you chased 'em once, you'd be chasing them all night," Reilly said. "If you had a squirrel or a cat, you could get 'em out of there. I've been on the field for all that stuff, but I've never chased seagulls out of there. That's a classic."
Of course, the story brought up memories of when Dave Winfield threw a ball that killed a seagull in Toronto. It happened on Aug. 4, 1983, when Winfield was with the Yankees. He was warming up in the fifth inning when his throw accidentally hit and killed a gull. This time, the gull escaped.
"I don't even remember the birds being here at all when I was here," Crisp said. "There were bugs. I guess that's what brought the birds -- the whole nature thing. I'd rather actually have the birds rather that the bugs, as long as they don't get in the way."
This time, though, one gull did.