In July, Braves utility player Omar Infante infiltrated the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif.
At the time, the pick seemed curious because All-Star rosters usually are replete with the sport's best starters. Infante had started roughly half of his team's games and hadn't had a tremendous season up to that point.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, manager of the National League's All-Star squad, picked him presumably to serve exactly the role he served at the time with the Braves. Because the game counts -- the NL won the game to earn World Series home-field advantage for its pennant winner -- Manuel needed a utility guy he could plug in at any position late in the game. As it turned out, he didn't need to use Infante, but I'm sure it was nice simply having that option.
Now, nobody's questioning Infante's All-Star selection.
When Martin Prado was placed on the 15-day disabled list in late July, Infante replaced him at second base. It was thought that he was just a stopgap until Prado returned. Then, when Chipper Jones tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Aug. 10, Braves manager Bobby Cox shuffled the defensive alignment accordingly. Prado returned soon after and moved to third base.
All of a sudden, Infante was the everyday second baseman for the NL East leaders. It's a role in which the eight-year veteran has absolutely thrived.
Infante has started every game since July 29. Prior to that game, his season average was .327. Many assumed that the batting average was inflated because of its relatively small sample size. Once he got in there day in and day out, the average would drop a bit.
It didn't drop. In fact, Infante has brought his average up to .347 thanks to a torrid August in which he's hit .362.
After seemingly crashing the All-Star party, Infante could find himself in hot water again at the end of the season.
Because he didn't start every day until the latter part of the season, Infante is unlikely to reach the required number of plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. However, a little-known item in the MLB rule book could give him a chance to win the coveted honor anyway.
The rules require players to reach 502 plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. In the past, that rule prevented several players who were on the brink of winning.
So, MLB came to a common-sense conclusion. Say a player is head-and-shoulders above the field in batting average, but ends up with, for example, 500 plate appearances.
The league decided that if that player would still lead the league in average if the remaining at-bats were hitless ones (in this case, two to reach the required 502), then he would be deemed the batting champion.
This is where Infante comes in. He had 347 plate appearances as of Wednesday. The Braves had 35 games remaining. If Infante averages four plate appearances per game (a very conservative estimate that he's likely to surpass) from here on out, he'll end up with 487 plate appearances.
If he maintains a .347 average, then taking away 15 hitless at-bats (to reach the 502 minimum) would put him at roughly a .334 average for batting title purposes. His exact final average would depend on certain factors, but that's a close estimate.
All the attention has been on Cincinnati's Joey Votto and St. Louis' Albert Pujols in the race for the Triple Crown, an honor a player earns for finishing tops in the league in home runs, RBI and batting average. Both of them are neck-and-neck in all three categories.
In average, Votto leads the league at .326 through Wednesday's games, while Pujols isn't far behind at .319.
Can you imagine the outrage that would result if one of them "won" the Triple Crown, then realized that Infante swooped in to take the batting title on a technicality?
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