There are some weird quirks ingrained in MLB’s long rulebook, and the Washington Nationals ran into a particularly unsavory morsel on Wednesday.
In the fifth inning, the Nationals ran into problems. The Pittsburgh Pirates had runners on second and third base with one out to make it 3-3. Ke’Bryan Hayes, one of three Pirates in the lineup with a batting average of over .250, faced Steve Cishek.
Then the Nationals got lucky. Hayes hit a low line drive that was caught by Josh Bell, Nationals first baseman, who quickly threw the ball to third base. Both Pirates-runners, Hoy Park at second base and Jack Suwinski at third base, had run to the next base without tagging, giving Washington a quick double play when third baseman Ehire tagged Adrianza Park at third base.
Adrianza even stepped into third place for good measure, as Suwinski had just booked it for home and never came back. Pirates manager Derek Shelton rushed out to talk to the umpires, but replay clearly showed Bell had caught the ball on the fly. Nationals players ran to the dugout after avoiding a tiebreak rally.
The end result: 4-3 Pirates.
Yes, despite the Nationals getting a double play with one out—and taking out the fourth man for good measure—the Pirates still got a run and a lead. And that’s how much fans learned about MLB’s “fourth off” rule.
Let’s go to Rule 5.09(c) of the 191 page MLB rulebook, which the umpires no doubt knew about and the Nationals may not. We have bolded some key phrases.
Each runner will be called out on roll call when:
(1) After a flyout is caught, he fails to retouch his original base until he or his original base is tagged;
Rule 5.09(c)(1) Explanation: “Retouch”, in this rule, means tapping up and starting from contact with the base after the ball is caught. A runner is not allowed to make a flying start from a position behind his base. Such a token will be issued in higher appeal†
Then, a few paragraphs later:
Any appeal under this rule must be made before the next throw, or any play or attempted play. If the violation occurs during a game that ends a half inning, the appeal shall be made before the defending team leaves the field†
So what does that mean? Well, it says Suwinski should have been knocked out… if the Nationals had simply accosted an umpire and asked to call him out after he stepped on the sack. Had they done that, Suwinski would have been called out as the fourth out of the inning.
But since the Nationals all left the field before someone inquired about Suwinski and Suwinski crossed home plate before Park was tagged out, the run counted even though the inning was over. If Adrianza had simply touched third base instead of or before tagging Park, the run would not have counted.
Crew chief Mark Wagner confirmed this was all the case for a pole reporter after the game, via Barry Svrgula of the Washington Postand also noted that Adrianza simply stepping on base after tagging Park was not enough, as he had to deliberately address Suwinski as the fourth out.
All of that certainly loomed large when the Pirates went on to win the game by a single run, 8-7.