Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Rules – “The Fourth Out”

Everyone may know the record for number of strikeouts in one inning is actually four. So far, this has been done 54 times in major league history, dating back to when Ed Crane of the New York Gothams did it on October 4th, 1888 (thank God for for that one because I can’t even trace my family back that far without asking Grandma). For those of you who don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, a strikeout can actually occur without an out being recorded. If a catcher does not hold onto a third strike (called looking or swung at and missed entirely) and the ball hits the ground, a runner may attempt to advance to first and the catcher must either tag the runner or throw down to first and beat him there on a force out.

Now you may ask, “What does this have to do with the fourth out of an inning?” Actually… a whole lot of nothing at all. When a runner reaches first by this method a strikeout is still recorded but an out is not ever put in the books. So reader, do you wish to know how a fourth out can actually happen in the same inning? Why, I thought you’d never ask.

First you must understand when runs are allowed to score to understand this rule. I am going to use a lot of examples instead of rulebook mumbo-jumbo (just worked mumbo-jumbo into my article – really going places in life) as it is hard to read some of the language in it. Just ask anyone studying “balks” as to how confusing these rules can get. I hope I can assume that you know with a runner on third and 2 outs, a ground ball force play at first or a fly ball out will not allow the runner to score, even if he crosses the plate before the out is recorded. Just keep in your mind through reading through the rest of this, the one fact that a third out made by force out always trumps a run scoring, no matter how late after the runner crosses home it happens. If the batter up with 2 outs and a runner on third hits a ball off the center field wall with the center fielder stepping in a storm drain and unable to retrieve it, but then the batter falls halfway between home and first, the for some reason 400 pound overweight left fielded backing up the play can run all the way in and tag first, and the run still never scores. Okay, I promise to use more realistic examples in the future of at least this rule explanation. Exception: some of these scenarios include stupid play and unexplained slowness – so picture sumo wrestlers or nitwits running the bases when necessary. In fact, let’s call our main character “Bob” so we can sort of feel sorry for the un-athletic guy who now has an identity. Also, these rules are not probable to ever happen but the possibility that they could is enough for me. Here are the scenerios:

The “Non-appealed fourth out”

This one is kind of easy to grasp but you may never see it unless someone actually does become unable to reach first. While I don’t wish ill on any player for real (except Cliff Lee so the Yanks have a shot), I will not hurt Bob, I will just make him slower than you even first imagined. The scenario is second and third with two outs. Bob hits the ball to the nitwit shortstop (sorry - just Bob gets a name in these examples) who for some reason throws the ball home. The runner is called safe. The catcher saw the runner on second got a late break to third as the SS had the ball and throws down to third to try and get the tag out. The runner from second is called out at third base for the third out. However, Bob has not crossed first yet – so the third basemen who reads this blog and knows what you don’t yet, fires across the diamond and his first baseman (also a fan of us, or just playing self defense from the throw) catches the ball and steps on first JUST in the nick of time. Bob is actually considered out on the play. The runner that crossed home seemingly 15 seconds ago is not counted as a run. An umpire would have signaled a man out four times in the same inning (the two previous outs, the second guy at home and then Bob), so there were in fact four outs made. The fact is however, only three are recorded and one is erased. A pitcher does not pitch 1.1 innings in one inning, nor does a team officially go into the book as making 4 outs in an inning – I am just simply pointing out that four times in an inning, a player can be called out.

The “Faster version of the non-appealed fourth out”

Bob doesn’t need to apply for this instance, but let’s make him the hitter anyway. Runners on first and third this time with two outs and they’re stealing as the pitch is coming home. Bob the hitter grounds to shortstop who has no play at the runner going home. He crosses the plate and then the SS tags the runner who over ran second base after touching it for the third out. Realizing this mistake because he is a huge fan of us here at the Sterling Shakers, he throws the ball to first, beating Bob hustling this time down the line for the fourth out. This seems like it could have happened at least once in history, but I could not find a reference. Same principles apply – the runner rounding second making the third out is trumped by the force out at first and no run is tallied.

The “Appealed fouth out”

Okay try to follow this one as the degree of difficulty to comprehend may go up a little if you’re not that familiar with the game and its little nuances. This doesn’t make you dumb, it makes the people that get stuff like this on the first run through a little too much like me: an obsessed fanatic. I do pat you on the back if you understand this one on the first way through because a lot is going on. The situation is first and third with two outs. A batter laces a ball down the line in fair territory for an apparent hit. The man on third crosses home safely. Bob who was on first for the first time all season, gets gunned down at home trying to go first to home on the play for the apparent third out. The batter hustles and tries to stretch this into a triple. He apparently (hint: foreshadowing) makes it safely around second as Bob is getting tagged out at home. The play’s over right? Well yes, if the team runs off the field here, it is a normal three out inning with a run scored on an RBI double with a force out at home. However the second basemen saw that the batter missed second base on his way to third, and calls for an appeal. The second basemen steps on second with ball-in-hand, and the man who was taking off his helmet and gloves at third is called out for the “fourth out.” This force play in fact nullifies the previously assumed third out AND the run scored, even though the run scored was well before this appeal was made. Ain’t that something?

The only instance I remember this rule ever being an issue struck me when watching Sportscenter on ESPN one spring WAY back in 2009. The season had just started and there was little news to be excited for to put on the tube. In the top of the second inning on April 12th at Chase Field in LA, Dan Haren of the Arizona Diamondbacks was pitching. He walked Andre Ethier and struck out Casey Blake to start the inning. Juan Pierre hit a single moving Ethier to third with some hustle, and then a pitch or two later Pierre stole second. So with runners on second and third with one out, and Dodgers pitcher Randy Wolf at the dish, he hit a screamer back at Haren. The D-back pitcher snagged the liner out of the air and turned and fired wide left to second to catch Pierre who was off the base. The second basemen Felipe Lopez (or was it Stephen Drew the SS?) caught the ball and started a rundown with third baseman Mark Reynolds. They tagged Pierre out. This entire time, Ethier ran and crossed home without ever touching third to tag up. Arizona ran off the field thinking no run was counted being that Ethier never tagged up, and they tagged the third out already. Our lesson today would prove them wrong as the tag out was NOT the force out needed. In fact, if after getting Pierre out, Drew/Reynolds/Lopez could have run over and stepped on third for the “fourth out” and negated the run. Instead, manager Joe Torre came out as soon as the Arizona were all in the dugout and made sure the run was counted using this very rule. Joe Torre may, or may not follow us here at the Sterling Shakers, but I would like to give him the nod for knowing more than your average baseball guy. And now you do too.

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