April 13, 2009
Baseball novices sometimes complain the sport's complex layers of rules make the game too difficult for the uninformed masses to enjoy.
Purists could always counter: What do you mean? Three strikes and you're out. Three outs and the inning's over. Nine innings (usually) and the game ends. What's so hard to understand?
Well, for one thing, sometimes there's four outs in an inning, like in the Dodgers' confusing 3-1 victory over the Diamondbacks on Sunday.
"Baseball is three outs, I thought," Andre Ethier told the L.A. Times on Sunday.
Follow along closely here, because it gets complicated: The Dodgers were trailing 1-0 with one out in the second inning when the perfect storm of baseball weirdness happened.
With runners on second and third base, the Dodgers' Randy Wolf hit a line drive back to Arizona pitcher Dan Haren, who turned and threw toward second base in order to complete what should have been an inning-ending double play.
Instead, he ignored the bag, took a few more steps and tagged Pierre.
Meanwhile, the runner on third base, the aforementioned Ethier, ran toward home on contact and actually touched the plate a split-second before Pierre was tagged, which umpires noticed.
Doesn’t matter. The Dodgers are out. Right? Wrong.
From the LA Times:
"When it happened, [coach] Bob Schaefer said, 'That's the four-out play.' "
— Dodgers manager Joe Torre
Because Lopez, the player with the ball, moved to tag a runner and not the base itself, he more or less put Pierre in a rundown, which extended the life of the play, giving the other baserunner time to score.
If the D-backs had appealed to umpires that Ethier had left third base early — which he had — then umps would have ruled it the fourth out of the inning and the run would have been taken off the board. The D-backs never appealed because they didn't think they needed to. The defense just left the field after Pierre was tagged, incorrectly thinking that the inning was over without the run at home counting.Got it?
"They did get it right,” Melvin said of the umpires. "That is the call: If you tag the runner at second, you have to go to appeal before you come off the field to get the runner at third."
Ethier had no idea his run counted until he took his place on defense in the field.
"I see some people talking, and I'm not understanding," Ethier said. "And you see a run go up. It was kind of shocking."
Video of the play at MLB.com is disappointingly uninformative and ends abruptly. Use your imagination to fill in the visual blanks.
It's easier to understand the play if you liken it to a rundown when multiple runners are caught off the bag, but a man scores before the other is tagged out.
Then work in the necessary appeal process, and it makes sense why some follow tennis.
For further breakdown, here's a PDF of the rules.
Best of luck.