Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Runners Passing Nearly Turns to Lead Abandonment

A runners passing situation during Tuesday's Spring Training game between the Red Sox and Rays in Florida led umpires to declare Tampa Bay baserunner Nathan Lukes out for passing Vidal Brujan, who nearly abandoned his running of the bases and could have been called for a second out on the play. What happened?

Play: With one out and two on (R2 Lukes, R3 Brujan), Rays batter Brett Sullivan took a called fourth ball, drawing a walk. R3 Brujan, who apparently thought the bases were loaded, started jogging toward home plate as Boston alertly trapped Brujan in a rundown, with R2 Lukes hustling to third base. As Red Sox pitcher John Schreiber ran R3 Brujan back to third base, a runners passing situation occurred, identified by 3B Umpire and Crew Chief Sam Holbrook, who declared R2 Lukes out. After confusion, during which Brujan ran back to and entered the Tampa Bay dugout, Brujan was returned to third base, Lukes declared out, and batter-runner Sullivan placed at second base.

: Runners passing occurs when a trailing runner fully passes a preceding runner. According to Official Baseball Rule 5.09(b)(9), which states that a runner is out when "he passes a preceding runner before such runner is out," it doesn't exactly matter who physically passed whom; in all cases, it is the trail who is out: "A runner may be deemed to have passed a preceding (i.e., lead) runner based on his actions or the actions of a preceding runner."

As far as abandonment is concerned—seeing as Brujan clearly ran to and entered the Rays dugout—OBR 5.09(b)(2) states that a runner is out when the runner leaves the base path, "obviously abandoning his effort to touch the next base." The example play is as follows: "PLAY—Runner believing he is called out on a tag at first or third base starts for the dugout and progresses a reasonable distance still indicating by his actions that he is out, shall be declared out for abandoning the bases."

Analysis: So why wasn't this a double play? In the end, Brujan may have been saved by a combination of two factors: First, it's Spring Training and a certainly leniency exists in March that would not in, say, July. Second, 3B Umpire Holbrook appeared to call "Time" before declaring Lukes out for passing.

That "Time" call makes abandonment a little trickier, as during a dead ball situation, runners similarly have a bit more lenience before abandonment sets in. That said....Brujan did enter the dugout, and unless it was for the purposes of uniform repair, it would be reasonable to believe he did so because he had abandoned his base-running role, or, as OBR 5.09(b)(2) PLAY states, because Brujan believed he had been "called out."

Lessons Learned: First, even when players don't know the rules, umpires must maintain both knowledge and awareness. In this situation, R3 Brujan did not know his entitlement to third base, but U3 Holbrook did.

However, the second part of our lesson is patience. Keep the ball alive and in play unless all action has ceased or as otherwise prescribed by rule. For the purposes of this play, runners passing is a simple out declaration: it is not a reason to call "Time" while the ball is loose and other action is taking place. But if "Time" is going to be called, erroneously or otherwise, that moves the goalpost for other calls, such as abandonment: "Time" kills the play and certain events—such as runners advancing—simply cannot occur during a dead ball (unless part of a base award).

That said, an umpire is empowered by Rule 8.02(c) to place runners as if the reversed call had never been made, disregarding events that may have occurred after the call-to-be-reversed: "If the umpires consult after a play and change a call that had been made, then they have the authority to take all steps that they may deem necessary, in their discretion, to eliminate the results and consequences of the earlier call that they are reversing." In this case, abandonment occurred after the "Time" call and may have been reversed pursuant to OBR 8.02(c).


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