Fairfield Tops Ottumwa, But a Protest is Possible

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The Class 3A #6 Fairfield baseball team traveled to Ottumwa Friday night and beat the Bulldogs 6-1, in a game that was being made up from a rainout the week before.  However, the Ottumwa team may file a protest over the possibility that the Trojans illegally re-inserted a player into the game in the 7th inning.

Under high school rules, any player in the lineup may be removed from the game and then re-inserted once.  Often, head coaches will pinch-run for a hitter who reaches base, then re-insert the hitter into the lineup.  This can only be done once per player, however, and a player removed from the lineup a second time is out of the game.  The only exception is that courtesy runners are allowed for the pitcher and catcher, and using a courtesy runner in that situation does not count as removing the pitcher or catcher from the game.

The scenario began to unfold in the top of the 6th, when designated hitter Joseph Hietpas, batting second in the order for Fairfield, singled and was replaced by pinch-runner Justin Leonard.  Before the top of the 7th began, Fairfield head coach Josh Allison had a long conversation with the home plate umpire, presumably about re-inserting Hietpas, who was due up second, into the lineup.

Hietpas took his at-bat in the 7th, drew a walk, and was replaced at first base by Alex Christensen, who had appeared four times in the game as a courtesy runner for pitcher Austin Gridley.  Gridley was still in the game at that point, batting third, and he came to the plate and was hit by a pitch.

In the bottom of the 7th, Hietpas came on to pitch in relief of Gridley.  Although it was not immediately noticed by the Ottumwa coaching staff, a review of the scorebook after the game led them to believe Hietpas should not have been in the game, having been lifted twice in the previous two innings for pinch-runners.

Fairfield contends that Hietpas was allowed to pitch, saying they informed the umpire he was being re-inserted in the top of the 7th as the pitcher, and that Christensen was therefore not a pinch-runner but a courtesy runner, meaning Hietpas was not removed from the game in the top of the 7th after batting.

Ottumwa, on the other hand, contends that Hietpas’ re-insertion into the game in the top of the 7th was an offensive move, and that he could not be considered as having entered at pitcher (or any defensive position) until he actually took that position in the field.  In their view, Gridley, who had completed the bottom of the 6th on the mound, was still in the game as the pitcher, and took his plate appearance in the top of the 7th as the pitcher.

It’s unknown at this time what Fairfield did regarding Gridley in the bottom of the 7th.  Hietpas had taken his place on the mound.  Under the designated hitter rules, both Hietpas and the player he was batting for, left fielder Wyatt Stark, were locked into the second spot in the Trojan batting order.  Putting Hietpas in as pitcher removed the DH from the lineup, so if Gridley simply left the game and Stark remained in left field, Fairfield would have been in violation of the DH because Stark could not be in Gridley’s lineup spot.  If Gridley took Stark’s place in left field, Fairfield would not be in violation of the DH rule, still leaving the question of the substitution rule.

The potential controversy overshadowed an outstanding performance by Gridley, who allowed just one run over six innings while striking out eight.  Gridley also reached base five times as a hitter, with two singles, a double, a walk and a hit by pitch.  Ottumwa’s only run came when Corey Ridgway scored on a straight steal of home in the 5th inning.

It’s likely that nothing regarding the protest will be resolved until at least Monday.  In the meantime, Ottumwa resumes its season Monday afternoon with a doubleheader at Des Moines Lincoln, while Fairfield hosts Fort Madison in a twinbill on Monday.