Nationals fall victim to bizarre ‘fourth out’ rule

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 and the score was 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 Nationals first baseman Josh Bell, who quickly threw the ball to third base. Both Pirates-runners, Hoy Park on second base and Jack Suwinski on third base, had run to the next base without tapping, giving Washington a quick double play when third baseman Ehire Adrianza Park tagged out at third base.

Adrianza even stepped into third place for the record, 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 seemingly taking out the fourth man for good measure – the Pirates still got a run and a lead. And that’s how many fans learned about MLB’s “fourth out” 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 is 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 hit third base instead of or before tagging Park, the run would not have counted.

Crew chief Mark Wagner confirmed all was the case for a polar 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.

Members of the Washington Nationals watch as crew chief umpire Mark Wegner, second from left, makes a decision during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park, Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Members of the Washington Nationals watch as crew chief umpire Mark Wegner, second from left, makes a decision during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park, Wednesday, June 29, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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