John McGrath

John McGrath: Nori Aoki turned Mariners game around with play that never was

San Diego Padres catcher Derek Norris, right, interferes on a swing by Seattle Mariners’ Nori Aoki in the sixth inning of Monday’s game.
San Diego Padres catcher Derek Norris, right, interferes on a swing by Seattle Mariners’ Nori Aoki in the sixth inning of Monday’s game. The Associated Press

Nori Aoki reached first base Monday on a play that shook the doldrums out of the Mariners and just plain shook up the San Diego Padres. It triggered a four-run rally and a 9-3 victory

But don’t look for the play in the box score, because according to baseball scoring rules, it never happened.

With one out and nobody on in the sixth inning of a game the Mariners trailed 2-0, Aoki was allowed to take first when his bat came in contact with the mitt of catcher Derek Norris.

Home-plate umpire Mark Ripperger called interference and Norris was charged with an error, but Aoki did not get credit for getting on base, even though his getting on base seemed to upset the rhythm of Padres starter Andrew Cashner.

“It obviously got something going,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of the interference call. “But we still had to put the bat on the ball.”

Having done next to nothing against Cashner for five innings, the Mariners soon went to work. A gapper by Seth Smith drove in Aoki. A single to left center by Nelson Cruz scored Smith, and then Kyle Seager cleared the right field fence by maybe an inch.

Four runs, thanks in large part to a play that was statistically unquantifiable. .

“It was a weird way to get on base, but the guys behind me kept it going,” Aoki said through an interpreter. “It’s the reason we’re good, I guess.”

Aoki shrugged off the notion his, uh, contribution involved a particular skill.

“It was just a coincidence,” he said. “If the catcher lines up a little closer to the pitcher, there’s a better chance the ump will call the pitch a strike. Maybe that had something to do with it.”

And yet it can’t be just a coincidence that in 1978, former Mariners catcher Bob “Scrap Iron” Stinson set what was then an American League record by reaching base six times on catcher’s interference. Nor can it be coincidence Pat Corrales, another former catcher, is among the six players in history to be the beneficiary of the call two times in one game. That happened to him twice, in 1965.

Servais, another former catcher, recalled the hitters who drew interference during his career were “always the same guys — the guys who let the ball travel really deep.

“It’s the guys that swing really late, like Nori does, and (flick) the catchers mitt.”

Aoki wasn’t able to recall too many instances of reaching first on interference — “Maybe one other time,” he said — and the numbers back him up. Interference is called about once in every 7,200 plate appearances.

But it was called during a holiday afternoon at Safeco Field where everything seemed perfect except the Mariners themselves. After dropping three in a row to the lowly Minnesota Twins, the losing streak appeared destined for four.

Then the Mariners caught a lucky break, or Aoki used his deep stance and late swing to his advantage, or some combination of both. But it happened, even if none of us saw what happened or can verify what happened in the box score.

By the way, the career leader in reaching first on interference? Pete Rose with 28. Nobody else had even 20.

Love Rose or loathe him, he did whatever it took to reach base. Give him that.