Sunday, September 19, 2021

Losing an Appeal - Astros Draw D-Backs Into a Play

After Astros batter Carlos Correa hit a sacrifice fly to score baserunner Yuli Gurriel from third base, the Arizona Diamondbacks began pointing toward third, seemingly convinced Gurriel had left early. If 3B Umpire Jeff Nelson were to agree, all the Diamondbacks would need to do is appeal the base-running infraction and Houston's game-tying run would come off the board.

What happened next suggests that Astros third base coach Omar Lopez and runner Kyle Tucker also knew that Houston's tying run was in jeopardy, so they devised a plan.

When D-Backs pitcher Bradyn Sittinger stepped off the rubber to throw the ball to third baseman Josh VanMeter for the appeal on Gurriel, Tucker suddenly took off for home. In doing so, he drew Sittinger's attention. Sittinger ran the runner back toward third base before throwing to third baseman VanMeter, who (without touching third base) pursued and tagged Tucker out in front of home plate.

By then, however, Houston's plan had worked and the Diamondbacks lost their opportunity to appeal Gurriel's early departure. Why?

Official Baseball Rule 5.09(c) governs appeals and states, "Any appeal under this rule must be made before the next pitch, or any play or attempted play." This time limitation meant that as soon as Arizona committed to retiring Tucker, their play on the runner closed the door on a potential appeal of Gurriel, and this is what HP Umpire Mike Estabrook likely explained to Arizona manager Torey Lovullo after the play.

To fix this, if you're the defense, you have two options. The first pertains to what we call a "real-time appeal," which is an appeal effected during the play in which the infraction allegedly occurred. For example, a real-time appeal here would consist of third baseman VanMeter stepping on third base and appealing to Nelson for a ruling directly after baserunner Tucker slid into third base on the sacrifice fly.

The point is a real-time appeal occurs prior to the ball becoming dead or prior to the ensuing batter entering the box following the play.

As our 2017 article linked above illustrates, the real-time appeal is preferable for many reasons, and the risk of the "play or attempted play" statute of limitations closing after-the-fact is one of the risks inherent with the traditional "delayed" appeal, as opposed to the real-time appeal. During the play itself, the MLB Umpire Manual relaxes the "play or attempted play" standard because, as the manual states, the real-time appeal occurs during "the continuous action created by and following the batted [or thrown, or pitched] ball."

By rule, until the ball is returned to the pitcher on the mound or time is called, the action of the play is continuous and thus appeals are unaffected by the "play or attempted play" clause. MLBUM looks for a "definite break in the original continues action" before starting the "play or attempted play" clock. Calling "Time" or a pitcher returning to the mound is a definite break. A fielder holding the ball after tagging a runner is not.

That said, if the D-Backs had to appeal in "delayed" fashion because the pitcher didn't realize the runner had left early until after "Time" was called or for some other reason, there is no rule that requires the pitcher to throw the ball to the base. The pitcher could have run the ball to the base or run to the foul line and chased the runner back to the base while making a point to tag the base first before tagging the runner or throwing to the catcher to retire the runner (if applicable). There is similarly no rule that would require the pitcher to run directly toward the base to effect the appeal. The pitcher's circuitous route is not a play or attempted play: tagging the base or throwing/attempting to retire a runner is.

Finally, in a level of baseball or softball that has dead ball appeals (e.g., NFHS has such a rule), the defense can avoid this headache simply by conducting its appeal during a dead ball. MLB, naturally, requires live ball appeals.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Houston draws Arizona into forfeiting their appeal chance by making a play (HOU)


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