Nationals fall victim to bizarre 'fourth out' rule as Pirates score despite lining into inning-ending double play

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There are some weird quirks baked into MLB's lengthy rulebook, and the Washington Nationals ran into a particularly unsavory morsel on Wednesday.

In the fifth inning, the Nationals were in trouble. The Pittsburgh Pirates had runners on second and third with one out and the score tied 3-3. Ke'Bryan Hayes, one of three Pirates in the lineup with a batting average above .250, was facing 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 and Jack Suwinski on third, had run to the next base without tagging up, giving Washington a quick double play when third baseman Ehire Adrianza tagged out Park at third.

Adrianza even stepped on third for good measure, as Suwinski had just booked it for home and never came back. Pirates manager Derek Shelton ran out to discuss with the umps, but replay clearly showed Bell had caught the ball on the fly. Nationals players ran to the dugout, having avoided a tiebreaking rally.

The end result: 4-3 Pirates.

Yes, despite the Nationals getting a double play with one out — and seemingly getting the fourth guy out for good measure — the Pirates still got a run and the 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, of which the umpires were undoubtedly aware and the Nationals may not have been. We've bolded some key phrases.

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

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

Rule 5.09(c)(1) 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. Such runner shall be called out on appeal.

Then, a few paragraphs later:

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.

So, what does that mean? Well, it states that Suwinski should have been out ... if the Nationals had simply appealed to any umpire and asked for him to be called out after stepping on the bag. Had they done so, Suwinski would have been called out as the fourth out of the inning.

But since the Nationals all left the field before anyone inquired about Suwinski and Suwinski crossed home plate before Park was tagged out, the run counted even though the inning was over. Had Adrianza simply touched third base instead of or before tagging Park, the run wouldn't have counted.

Crew chief Mark Wagner confirmed that all to be the case to a pool reporter after the game, via The Washington Post's Barry Svrgula, also noting that Adrianza simply stepping on the base after tagging Park wasn't enough, as he had to intentionally appeal Suwinski as the fourth out.

All of that certainly loomed large when the Pirates eventually won the game by a single run, 8-7.

Members of the against the Washington Nationals watch as crew chief umpire Mark Wegner, second from left, decides a call 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 against the Washington Nationals watch as crew chief umpire Mark Wegner, second from left, decides a call 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)