Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Four-Out Inning That Could Have Been

In baseball, there are three outs in an inning.  When the third out is recorded, the inning is over, notwithstanding the home team scoring a winning run in the ninth or beyond.  That doesn't matter; there is no such thing as a fourth out in an inning, except when it almost happened.

OK, I can't say it "almost" happened, as much as my being reminded of the fact that it actually could, and the situation for it came up on Wednesday night.  The announcers, Jerry Remy and Dave O'Brien, did not point out that it was a possibility, but I saw it immediately.

The Kansas City Royals, a challenged club this year, were at Fenway Park to play Boston.  In the first inning, Whit Merrifield of the Royals walked, and went to third on a double by Jorge Soler.  That left men on second and third, with one out following a strikeout.

Second and third, one out.  Plot material.

Salvador Perez was the next batter, and he hit a fly to the outfield, quite deep but playable, an easy sacrifice fly but deep enough to where Soler could have tagged up on second and gone to third, had he actually remembered that there was only one out.  Fortunately for me and the column, he did not.

Merrifield tagged up and scored, followed closely by Soler, who had not bothered to tag up and was being screamed at in vain by the third-base coach.  Of course, the outfielders relayed the ball back to second, and Soler, nowhere near second and unsure what was going on, was doubled off second for the third out.  Since Merrifield had clearly touched home before the ball got to second, the run counted.

The broadcast went off to commercial, and I was scratching my head.

What, I thought, if Merrifield had left third base too early?  The play had already happened, but it was worth a look, since if the Red Sox had appealed at third, and Merrifield had been called out, the KC run would have been taken off the scoreboard.

Now, Merrifield had obviously not left too early, but what if he had?  The first out of the inning was a strikeout, the second the catch of the long fly, and the third was Soler being doubled off second to end the inning.  There would already have been three outs before an appeal play at third, but given that a run would be taken off the scoreboard, it would not have been moot; Boston would have to have made the appeal to get the run removed, and would have.

Merrifield would have been called out -- in order to get the run off the board, there would have to have been a different outcome for Merrifield and that would have been his being called out -- the fourth out of the inning.

I don't exactly have the Rules of Baseball memorized, but I'm guessing that situation would actually result in an inning of four outs, perfectly in keeping with the rules.

Remy and O'Brien didn't bring that up, but I hope at least this column will trigger some fun discussion of a four-out inning.

Footnote ... as you might imagine, I just had to know if this had ever happened and if the rule book, which by now covers about everything, actually had something in there for this instance.  In fact, it has never happened in baseball history, although it could have.  Definitely, if it is necessary to take a run off the board, a manager would have to appeal, but the rule book is also clear on the scoring.  Had, in this case, Cora as manager made a successful appeal, Merrifield would have been called out for leaving third too early.  But Soler, the runner who had been doubled off second in the original scoring, would no longer be "out", and the third out would actually have been recorded by Merrifield at third -- with Soler not a part of the scoring at all.  Three outs, not four.

Copyright 2018 by Robert Sutton
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