Nationals burned by strange fourth-out rule while Pirates scores despite inning in double play at the end of the inning

You never know what you’ll see in the ballpark on any given day, and Wednesday afternoon the rare “fourth-out rule” came into play in the series finale between the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates at Nationals Park (GameTracker).

The scene: Pittsburgh had runners on second (Hoy Jun Park) and third (Jack Suwinski) with one out in the fifth inning when Ke’Bryan Hayes softly lined out first baseman Josh Bell. Park and Suwinski both made contact, Bell made the catch, then threw to third base, allowing the tag to be applied to Park, who failed to retrieve at the second moment. Here’s the play:

Seems obvious to me, right? Bell made out the flyout for one, then Park was tagged for another out to complete the inning-ending double play. The confusion stems from Suwinski. He crossed the plate without tagging on third base and his run counts despite not writing it down. That’s because the Nationals never appealed against Suwinski to leave early.

This falls under MLB Rule 5.09(c), the appeals play section, and is popularly known as the “fourth out rule.” From the rulebook:

(c) Occupation plays

Each runner will be called out on roll call when:

(1) After a flyout is caught, he fails to retouch his original base until he or his original base is tagged;

Any appeal under this rule must be made before the next throw, or any play or attempted play. If the violation occurs during a game that ends a half-inning, the appeal must be made before the defending team leaves the field.

Nationals players all left the field before the team could appeal. Suwinski left third base early (which he obviously did), so Washington lost the opportunity to appeal. Suwinski’s run counted, even though he never tapped third base on the Hayes line drive. The umpires on the field did check with the replay crew in New York to confirm the rule.

Had the Nationals appealed in time, Suwinski would have spent and his run would not have counted, and would have been the “fourth” out of the inning. Unfortunately, the fourth outs don’t roll to the next inning or anything like that. It’s just a rulebook quirk that rarely comes into play. That almost happened on Wednesday, but the Nationals didn’t appeal in time and eventually lost the game by one run.

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