When 3 Outs Are Not Enough

The thing I love about going to baseball games is that you never quite know what to expect. On any given day or at any given moment you just might witness something historic or at least something you’ve never seen before. I have been involved in baseball in some aspect for over 40 years now either playing, coaching, watching, or writing. In that time I thought I had seen just about everything but each time I go to the ballpark I seem to find something new that keeps me humble and reminds me that I still have a lot to learn about this glorious game. Yesterday’s Arizona Diamondbacks game against the Los Angeles Dodgers was a prime example. The game started quite normally. The D-Backs scored in the bottom of the first on a sacrifice fly to take a 1-0 lead. With Dan Haren on the mound that was almost enough offense to win the game or so we thought.


The second inning though was anything but typical. Let me set the story up by going through the series of events. In the top of the second inning Dodger right fielder and Phoenix native Andre Ethier began the inning by walking on the eleventh pitch of the at-bat. Casey Blake followed Ethier and struck out looking for the first out of the inning. The next batter Juan Pierre singled to right field with Ethier going to third. With pitcher Randy Wolf at the plate, Pierre stole second base putting runners on second and third. With the runners both running on contact, Randy Wolf lines a ball back to the pitcher for the second out. Dan Haren turns and throws the ball to Diamondbacks second baseman Filipe Lopez. Lopez rather than touching second base for the third out instead jogs across the infield and tags Juan Pierre for the third out. Andre Ethier who like Pierre was running on contact did not tag up at third and knowing the inning was over he continues jogging down the baseline and crosses the plate just before Pierre is tagged.

The teams run off the field and everyone assumes the Diamondbacks have dodged a bullet and are holding onto a 1-0 lead. The umpires all huddle together in the infield and after a brief discussion they notify the official scorer that Ethier’s run counted and the score is tied 1-1. Arizona manager comes out for a conversation with the umpire crew and after a lengthy discussion returns to the dugout and with the score remaining 1-1. The fans at Chase Field were left scratching their heads wondering what just happened and why the Dodgers were given what looked to be a free run. This was the classic example of Rule 7.10 which is sometimes referred to as the “fourth out” rule.

It might help here to explain when a run scores. The rules state that “No run may score on an inning-ending play in which the third out is a force out or on the batter before he reaches first base.” In other words, force outs take precedence over runs scored.

Rule 7.10

Any runner shall be called out, on appeal, when —

(a) After a fly ball is caught, he fails to retouch his original base before he or his original base is tagged;

Rule 7.10(a) Comment: “Retouch,” in this rule, means to tag up and start from a contact with the base after the ball is caught. A runner is not permitted to take a flying start from a position in back of his base.

(b) With the ball in play, while advancing or returning to a base, he fails to touch each base in order before he, or a missed base, is tagged.

APPROVED RULING: (1) No runner may return to touch a missed base after a following runner has scored. (2) When the ball is dead, no runner may return to touch a missed base or one he has left after he has advanced to and touched a base beyond the missed base.

Rule 7.10(b) Comment: PLAY. (a) Batter hits ball out of park or ground rule double and misses first base (ball is dead)–he may return to first base to correct his mistake before he touches second but if he touches second he may not return to first and if defensive team appeals he is declared out at first.

PLAY. (b) Batter hits ball to shortstop who throws wild into stand (ball is dead)–batter-runner misses first base but is awarded second base on the overthrow. Even though the umpire has awarded the runner second base on the overthrow, the runner must touch first base before he proceeds to second base. These are appeal plays.

(c) He overruns or overslides first base and fails to return to the base immediately, and he or the base is tagged;

(d) He fails to touch home base and makes no attempt to return to that base, and home base is tagged.

Any appeal under this rule must be made before the next pitch, or any play or attempted play. If the violation occurs during a play which ends a half-inning, the appeal must be made before the defensive team leaves the field.

An appeal is not to be interpreted as a play or an attempted play.

Successive appeals may not be made on a runner at the same base. If the defensive team on its first appeal errs, a request for a second appeal on the same runner at the same base shall not be allowed by the umpire. (Intended meaning of the word “err” is that the defensive team in making an appeal threw the ball out of play. For example, if the pitcher threw to first base to appeal and threw the ball into the stands, no second appeal would be allowed.)

Appeal plays may require an umpire to recognize an apparent “fourth out.” If the third out is made during a play in which an appeal play is sustained on another runner, the appeal play decision takes precedence in determining the out. If there is more than one appeal during a play that ends a half-inning, the defense may elect to take the out that gives it the advantage. For the purpose of this rule, the defensive team has “left the field” when the pitcher and all infielders have left fair territory on their way to the bench or clubhouse.

Rule 7.10 Comment: If two runners arrive at home base about the same time and the first runner misses home plate but a second runner legally touches the plate, the runner is tagged out on his attempt to come back and touch the base or is called out, on appeal, then he shall be considered as having been put out before the second runner scored and being the third out. Second runner’s run shall not count, as provided in Rule 7.12.

If a pitcher balks when making an appeal, such act shall be a play. An appeal should be clearly intended as an appeal, either by a verbal request by the player or an act that unmistakably indicates an appeal to the umpire. A player, inadvertently stepping on the base with a ball in his hand, would not constitute an appeal. Time is not out when an appeal is being made.

Let’s now look back at the events of the second inning taking into account the timing. When the line drive is caught by Dan Haren it was recorded as a force out erasing Randy Wolf’s at bat and signified the second out. When the ball was thrown to Filipe Lopez he had two ways to record the out on Juan Pierre; he could touch second base which would immediately record Pierre as the third out. He could also tag Pierre which would likewise record the third out. If either of these events occurred before Andre Ethier crossed home plate the run would not count since the force out occurred before the run scored. In the game example Lopez chose the latter but did not do so before the run scored.

As if this wasn’t weird enough here comes another nuance. You’re probably saying to yourself, “but Ethier didn’t tag up!” and you would be correct in that assessment. He was as likely to be the third out as Pierre and had he been this discussion would be moot. This is where the fourth out comes into play. If Filipe Lopez would have thrown the ball to third base or tagged third base on his way back to the dugout he would have actually recorded a fourth out in the inning. Because this fourth out was actually the base runner scoring, his run would have been erased and the Diamondbacks would have maintained a 1-0 lead. For those keeping score, the actual inning ending out would have been the appeal play at third base and the tagging of Juan Pierre would have been ignored.

Like I said at the beginning; this is why you should always go to the game; you just never know when you might just be a witness to something you have never seen before. This was a first for me; I have never before been involved in a situation when three outs were not enough to stop an opposing team from scoring. You have to give credit to the umpire crew. They knew the rule and how it applied and they got it right. As for Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin; his discussion and argument was whether the tag occurred before Ethier crossed the plate or if Lopez had touched second base as he crossed it going to tag Pierre. This was definitely an educational play; it’s just too bad it went against the Diamondbacks.


1 Comment

  1. Couldn’t agree more with you never know what could happen on any given day. I was watching the Red Sox vs A’s game and 42 year old Tim Wakefield had a no-hitter going into the eighth today…that’s baseball.

    I really can see how passionate you are about baseball in general in your writing and the DBacks as well. On my blog throughout the season I am asking 2-3 questions from bloggers of other teams what their thoughts are on players from their team. Given what I’ve read on your blog I’d love to have you give your two cents of analysis.

    If you’re interested, shoot me an email at mark.schruender[at]gmail[dot]com. It would be a very minimal time commitment (I would just need you to respond to my questions once every three weeks and the questions would only take 15 minutes). I would throw up a link to your blog when I post your responses. Let me know what you think!

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