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The infield fly is a complicated but routinely used rule designed to help the hitting team. If there are runners on first and second, or the bases are loaded, and there are less than two outs, an umpire will routinely signal an automatic out on a pop-up to an infielder, largely to prevent him from dropping the ball intentionally to set up a double play, since the runners must stay close to bases to keep from getting doubled off.

At issue was whether Holbrook, who wasn’t even an infield umpire (he was working the left-field line as part of the expanded six-man crews used in the postseason), should have made the call on a ball that went far beyond the dirt _ at least 75 feet, maybe longer. That’s not really an issue under the rule, which doesn’t place any limitations on where the call is made. There were even quips about future calls being made on the warning track if a team has an especially speedy infielder.

The debate largely centered on Holbrook’s contention that rookie shortstop Pete Kozma was in position to make the play, which is when the ump’s arm went up _ right as Kozma veered out of the way, thinking left fielder Matt Holliday had called him off, and ball dropped in the grass. Apparently, Holbrook made the split-second judgment that Kozma was settling under the ball, when he was actually changing directions to get out of Holliday’s way.

Clearly, it was a fielding blunder.

“I was under it,” Kozma said. “I should have made the play. I took my eyes off it.”

Was it an umpiring blunder, as well?

Holbrook doesn’t think so, and he got support from the guys who matter most _ Torre and umpiring supervisor Charlie Reliford.

“It’s all judged on what the fielder does,” Holbrook said. “Once that fielder establishes himself and he has ordinary effort on the ball, that’s when the call is made. So it wouldn’t matter whether it was third base or on the line out there. It’s all based on what the fielder does. That’s what I went on, that’s what I read.”

But, after the ugly spectacle in Atlanta, baseball must surely take another look at using replay to make sure what umps see in real time is actually what happened.

Maybe it can take a cue from the NFL, which got itself in a mess by locking out the regular referees for the first three weeks of the season in a contract dispute. After all sorts of questionable calls by the less-experienced replacements _ most notably, an obvious interception that was ruled a game-winning touchdown in Seattle’s victory over Green Bay _ the league hastily worked out a new labor deal and rushed back its regulars.

Certainly, if baseball sticks with this new playoff system for the wild-card teams _ a sort of October Madness that settles a 162-game regular season with a single one-and-done game _ there could be more outbursts like the one at Turner Field.

“Fans get frustrated,” said Affeldt, the Giants reliever. “That’s the thing about a one-game playoff. It’s going to be intense for the fans as well. It’s do-or-die. They can get mad.”


AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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