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Nationals burned by quirky ‘fourth-out rule’ as Pirates score despite lining into inning-ending double play

Nationals burned by quirky 'fourth-out rule' as Pirates score despite lining into inning-ending double play

You never know what you’re going to see at the ballpark on any given day, and Wednesday afternoon the rare “fourth-out rule” came into play in the series finale between the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park (GameTracker).

The scene: Pittsburgh had runners at second (Hoy Jun Park) and third (Jack Suwinski) with one out in the fifth inning when Ke’Bryan Hayes hit a soft line drive at first baseman Josh Bell. Park and Suwinski both went on contact, Bell made the catch, then threw to third so the tag could be applied to Park, who did not tag up at second. Here’s the play:

Seems straightforward, right? Bell made the catch for one out, then Park was tagged for another out to complete the inning-ending double play. The confusion stems from Suwinski. He crossed the plate without tagging up at third base and his run counts despite not tagging up. That’s because the Nationals never appealed Suwinski leaving early.

This is covered by MLB Rule 5.09(c), the section covering appeal plays, and is colloquially known as the “fourth-out rule.” From the rulebook:

(c) Appeal Plays

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;

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.

Nationals players all left the field before the team could appeal Suwinski left third base early (which he obviously did), so Washington lost its chance to appeal. Suwinski’s run counted even though he never tagged up at third base on the Hayes line drive. The umpires on the field did check with the replay crew in New York to confirm the rule.

Had the Nationals appealed in time, Suwinski would have been called…

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