Justin Upton could have picked up that ball. Does that matter?

(Adam Kilgore /The Washington Post)

(Adam Kilgore /The Washington Post)

Barry Svrluga covered Ian Desmond’s overturned inside-the-park home run from every angle, but a question that may or may not have been crucial, depending on your reading of the applicable rule, remained unanswered this morning: How much space did Justin Upton have to grab the ball from underneath the padded wall?

We found out. As you see can from the picture above, which was taken around 2:45 p.m. Saturday, the distance between bottom of the pad and the warning track is 5 1/4 inches. The diameter of a baseball is somewhere between 2 7/8 inches and 3 inches.

Does that information inform whether the umpires in charge of replay review in New York made the proper call? Yes and no. From Barry’s story:

The rule consulted in this instance, number 7.05(f) in your official major league rulebook, is essentially the one that governs ground-rule or “automatic” doubles. It reads like this: A player is awarded two bases if “a fair ball bounces or is deflected into the stands outside the first or third base foul lines; or if it goes through or under a field fence, or through or under a scoreboard, or through or under shrubbery or vines on the fence; or if it sticks in such fence, scoreboard, shrubbery or vines.”

Sort through that for a bit, and there are only two possibilities that would apply here. Did this ball go “through or under a field fence”? Well, kind of under one, but not like it found a hole and got to a spot on the other side, where Upton couldn’t retrieve it. Does that apply?

And if not, then did it “stick in such fence, scoreboard, shrubbery or vines”? That’s where there is debate, debate that replay had not resolved long after the game.

Quickly, we’re thrust into semantics. The  word “lodged” got thrown around a lot yesterday, and it’s clear the ball was not lodged. But that’s not applicable here — the key question is whether the ball stuck in or under a fence.

The key definition of stick, from Dictionary.com, in this case seems to be: “To remain persistently or permanently.”

The ball would have remained in place persistently, and it was under the fence. So, then, it seems as though the judgment, to the very letter of the rule, was correct.

“It’s not so much about it being lodged,” Upton said Friday afternoon. “You saw my throw into the infield. When I went to pull it out, and throw the ball, it kind of spun in my hand, because it hit the [pad]. It just kind of spins in your hands. It’s hard to get a good grip on it.”

A word: Regardless of how easily Upton could have pulled the ball from under the pad, the play did not do the Nationals an injustice. Desmond’s hit was a double in every conceivable way, and it took an inconceivable chain of events for it to become, momentarily, a home run. The Nationals deserved a double, and they got a double. They would been really lucky to get the home run; they weren’t unlucky to get a double.

But, yeah, Justin Upton totally could have picked up that ball.

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