Here’s a really good question that came in this week. The issue is when the third out is made on appeal (a runner failed to tag up, for example, and is called out on appeal for the third out). Let’s add a twist. Let’s say the runner who is called out on appeal was at second base (he’s R2), but there was also a runner at third (R3) who scored on the play. Here’s the full scenario:
- There is one out and you have runners on second and third (R2, R3).
- Batter hits a deep fly ball to right field that is caught for the second out.
- Following the catch, both R2 and R3 tag up and advance one base; R2 is now on third and R3 has scored.
- However, the defense believes R2 left early (failed to tag up), and executes a proper appeal at second base.
- The umpire upholds the appeal and calls R2 out. That’s the third out.
Here’s the question: Does the run scored by R3 on the play count, or does it come off the board?
The run counts
Yep, in this case the run counts. This is effectively a time play, so the run scored by R3 stays on the board. To better understand what’s going on, let’s start with one of baseball’s most basic rules, Rule 5.08 (“How a team scores”). We’re going to look specifically at Rule 5.08(a), including (most importantly) the “Exception”:
5.08(a) One run shall be scored each time a runner legally advances to and touches first, second, third and home base before three men are put out to end the inning.
Exception: A run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made (1) by the batter-runner before he touches first base; (2) by any runner being forced out; or (3) by a preceding runner who is declared out because he failed to touch one of the bases.
Everything you need to know to rule correctly on this and similar cases is in this rule and its exception. Of course, the rule notwithstanding, you’re almost always going to get an argument, because the rule is poorly understood, by coaches in particular, but also by some umpires. In most cases the argument you’ll hear from a coach is that this was a “force play” (which it isn’t), and that you can’t score runs when the third out is made on a force play. But the coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
So when does the run NOT count on a third out appeal?
The discussion so far begs the question: Under what circumstances does a run not count when a third out is made on appeal? It’s a good question because these are the situations cause the confusion that drives all of the arguments.
To get our answer, we have to read carefully each of the three exceptions that are listed in Rule 5.08(a)(Exception). All three of these exceptions look familiar because, except for (3), they’re really common cases in nearly every baseball game you see. The trick is applying these exceptions to an appeal play. Don’t let that throw you off.
- Exception (1): This is one of the most common events in baseball. The batter-runner makes the third out before safely reaching first. This is your basic batted ball to the infield, 6-3, for example, or straight-up double play (6-4-3). Everyone knows that no run scores on this play.
I can think of only two appealable infraction on the batter-runner on a play like this that can result in his being called out at first base on appeal – (a) failing to touch first base while advancing (as if on a double), and (b) failing to return directly to first base after overrunning the bag [Rule 5.09(b)(4)]. In both of these cases, if the umpire upholds a proper appeal on the runner at first, and if that out is the third out, then no run can score on the play.
- Exception (2): If the third out is made on appeal of a runner who is forced to the base where the infraction is appealed, no run scores on that play. For example, let’s say you have bases loaded with two outs and the batter hits a three-run double. Three runs score and the batter-runner is standing on second. But then the defense executes a proper appeal at second base maintaining that the runner from first (R1) failed to touch second base. If the umpire upholds the appeal at second (to which R1 was forced), and if that was the third out, then no runs score and the half-inning is over.
You can change up this scenario in a lot of ways and get the same result. The point is, if the third-out appeal is at a base to which a runner was forced, then no runs score. You can think of this as basically Exception (1), but as a fielder’s choice.
- Exception (3): This one is a bit less common, but can still cause arguments. We saw in discussing Exception (1) that a base runner called out on appeal does not affect the scoring status of a preceding runner who has already scored on the play. However, when the situation is reversed and the third-out appeal succeeds on a player who scores, and where following runners also score, then none of the runs will count. The runner on whom the appeal was made does not score, of course, because he’s been called out on appeal. And since he was the third out, anyone following him obviously also doesn’t score.
Sometimes having the decision tree as a graphic helps understand the process of ruling on situations like this. Sometimes not. I’ll let you be the judge. Note, however, that the decision tree doesn’t cover all possible scenarios. It represents the basics – the starting point for ruling on third-out appeal scoring.