Thursday, May 27, 2021

Running a Batter Back to Home Plate - Automatic Out Rule

Chicago's Javier Baez reached on an unusual fielder's choice in Pittsburgh Thursday as a ground ball turned into a rundown of Cubs batter-runner Baez between home plate and first base, with HP Umpire Ryan Additon left to make a sudden out/safe decision on Cubs baserunner R2 Willson Contreras' head-first slide into home plate.

Welcome to baseball's automatic out rule for batter-runners who run back to home plate.

Play: With two out and one on (R2) in the top of the 3rd inning of the Cubs-Pirates game, batter Baez hit a 0-2 fastball from Pirates pitcher Tyler Anderson on the ground to third baseman Erik Gonzalez, who threw to first baseman Will Craig as baserunner R2 Contreras ran toward and rounded third base. When Craig stepped off of first base and down the line toward home plate to receive Gonzalez's throw, batter-runner Baez began retreating toward home plate with Craig in pursuit and Contreras still advancing toward home as well. Baez and Contreras arrived at the dirt circle surrounding home plate at around the same time, and Craig opted to throw to catcher Michael Perez to attempt to retire Contreras, whom Additon declared safe. Perez then threw wildly to first base and Baez took second base on the fielder's choice + error.

: Believe it or not, the odd instance of a batter-runner retreating toward home plate is covered by rule in what may be deemed baseball's automatic out for batter-runners. The MLB Umpire Manual states, simply, "In situations where the batter-runner gets in a rundown between first and home, if the batter-runner retreats and reaches home plate, the batter-runner shall be declared out." This is actually an interpretation of the obstruction rule which states that obstruction may not be called on a fielder who impedes the batter-runner as the BR retreats toward home, but obstruction still does apply to a batter-runner advancing or running toward first base.
Finally, as in Official Baseball Rule 5.08 Comment, "No run shall score during a play in which the third out is made by the batter-runner before they touch first base."

Analysis: Because batter-runner Baez did not make it all the way back to home plate itself (the batter-runner need not touch home plate, but simply arrive at the edge of home plate to be considered to have reached it), the automatic out rule for reaching home plate does not apply; baserunner Contreras beats the tag at the plate and is properly declared safe (sidebar: there is a difference between a declaration of "safe" and a determination as to whether a run scores or not. This play at the plate requires a safe/out mechanic; the umpire may nullify the run after the play has concluded, if applicable). Because no run may score during a play in which the third out is made by the batter-runner prior to first base, Baez still must make it safely to first base in order for Contreras' run to count (at this point, Contreras is safe, but his run remains in jeopardy).

Food for Thought
: After fielder Craig runs batter-runner Baez into the dirt circle surrounding home plate (but, notably, not all the way to home plate), Craig throws to catcher Perez to play on runner Contreras. Keeping our attention on Craig and Baez, we see that after Craig releases the ball and is no longer in possession of nor in the act of fielding it, Baez turns toward first base and collides with Craig. This is obstruction and Baez is eligible for such a call because Baez was moving in the direction of first base when it occurred [e.g., the MLBUM interpretation regarding obstruction going back to home plate does not apply]. Obstruction on the batter-runner prior to first base in this situation is Type A (Type 1) obstruction, meaning that had it been called, the ball would be dead and the batter-runner awarded (at least) first base, meaning catcher Perez's wild throw/error into right field never would have happened (OBR 6.01(h)).
Finally: Because Baez has the legal right to retreat toward home plate, as long he does not reach it, this is likewise not interference. Even so, recall that it is not interference by a retired runner (assuming the runner were to have been retired) simply because the retired runner continues to advance or retreat after being put out (OBR 6.01(a)(5) Comment).

Conclusion: All of this could have been prevented if fielder Craig were to have simply strolled over and stepped on first base to retire Baez for the third out of the inning. Instead, the Cubs scored two bonus runs and ultimately defeated Pittsburgh by two runs, 5-3.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Cubs score pair of runs after Craig neglects to get third out, a rules review (PIT/CCS)


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