Tuesday, April 14, 2009

D-Backs Fail to Get 4th Out, Dodgers Score Tying Run

One of the reasons I love baseball is that it’s so much like life. As routine as it becomes, it can still throw surprises at you. Arcane rules and rare plays will suddenly pop out at you and remind you there’s always more to learn.

Take the other day, for instance, when the D-Backs failed to record the 4th out of the inning and thus allowed the Dodgers to score a run to tie the game. Now, because baseball is so prevalent in our culture, I bet even the most baseball-illiterate reader knows you only get 3 outs an inning. So you’re probably all scratching your head wondering what the hell I’m talking about.

Here’s what happened:
• It’s the 2nd inning with 1 out.
• The Dodgers are down 1-0 with runners on 2nd and 3rd.
• The batter hits a hard line drive back to the pitcher who catches the ball. (2 outs)
• The base runners, running as soon as the bat hit the ball, are both halfway to the next base by now.
• The D-Backs pitcher turns around and throws to second base to record what should be the inning ending third out.
• Except that the second baseman, rather than stepping on the bag to record the force out, walked over to the base runner and tagged him. (3 outs)

Let’s pause here. Why did that last statement matter? If the third out of an inning is recorded as a force-out, a run scoring before that out is recorded doesn’t count. If a runner has to return to a bag or proceed to a bag, nothing can happen until their fate is determined. It doesn’t matter if a run scores first, the out is effectively retroactive to before the run scored. (This is all well and interesting but, as Jeffery points out in his comment below, has nothing to do with this play in particular.)

But if the third out is not recorded as a force-out, then a run scoring before the out is recorded counts. In this case, the third out was recorded when the second baseman tagged the runner and was not a force out. (Again, thanks to Jefferey's comment below, we now know that stepping on the bag would not have been a force-out either. Instead, it is presumed, stepping on the bag would have been faster and accomplished before the run scored.)

• The umpires noticed that the runner coming from 3rd had crossed the plate just before the second baseman applied the tag. The run counted.

Now wait a minute, I hear you cry. The runner who scored had to go back to his base too because the ball was caught. That’s true, except…

• The D-Backs left the field thinking the inning was over. They had, after all, recorded all three outs.
• As soon as the Dodgers threw the first pitch of the next inning, the tying run was officially scored.

Did you see what happened there? The run had scored, but the runner needed to return to 3rd base because he’d left the bag before the ball was caught. The D-Backs had until the next pitch to throw the ball to third base, appeal to the umpire that the runner had left early, record the 4th out of the inning, and take the tying run down off the boards. But they didn't do that, so the run counted officially as of the next pitch.

Strange but true. Just like life.

The Dodgers went on to win 3-1.

Here is a link to the section of the rule-book about base runners and to the Official Rules themselves.


Believe it or not, that's not the only way to record 4 outs in an inning. 51 pitchers have struck out 4 batters in an inning. And 3 minor league pitchers have struck out 5.


  1. now that is the bizarre beauty of baseball!

  2. Alan, you apparently still have to learn the rules. If he had stepped on second, it would NOT have been a force out. The out would have been recorded before the runner crossed the plate, thus it is a timing play. Tagging a runner rather than stepping on a base does not affect whether it is a force play or not. When a batter is out, there can NEVER be a force play. By going to tag him, he gave the runner from third extra time to score. Now maybe you've learned a few rules here.

  3. Thanks Jeffrey! Like I said. There's always more to learn.

  4. I've edited the post to reflect the rules as explained by Jeffrey.


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