Oftentimes, baseball is a simple game. Three strikes, nine innings, 27 outs.
To quote Crash Davis in “Bull Durham” — “You throw the ball, catch the ball, hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”
Well, on Wednesday at Nationals Park, it rained, but not due to atmospheric conditions. Instead, it rained on everybody’s understanding of the game of baseball and, specifically, how runs are scored.
For now, though, let’s ignore the details of rule 5.09(c)(4) — the obscure rule that credited the Pirates with a run in the fifth inning that baffled virtually everyone watching. Because even though the Nationals lost by only one run, the bizarre play was not the main reason why the Nationals lost to the Pirates. That was Bryan Reynolds, the Pirates center fielder who hit three home runs and drove in six runs to hand the Nationals an 8-7 defeat.
“I’m not blaming that we lost the game because of that one play, obviously,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “But it’s a big run in a one-run game.”
Shortly after Pittsburgh took a one-run lead in the fifth thanks to the confounding, but seemingly correct, ruling, the Nationals bounced back with three runs in the bottom half to take a 6-4 lead. But Washington’s bullpen couldn’t hold onto the lead.
Reynolds, who kicked off the game’s scoring with a two-run shot off Nationals starter Paolo Espino in the first, cut Washington’s lead in half with a solo blast off Carl Edwards Jr. in the sixth. An inning later, he put the Pirates up two and gave his team’s bullpen just enough cushion with a three-run long ball off Kyle Finnegan.
The poor pitching performance — from Espino’s four runs allowed in 4 1/3 innings to the bullpen’s ineffectiveness — ended a recent streak of excellent pitching from the Nationals. The last time Washington gave up eight runs in a game was June 17 during the club’s eight-game losing streak. Since then, the Nationals had allowed four or fewer runs in eight of their nine contests before Wednesday’s loss.
OK, back to rule 5.09(c)(4).
With the game tied in the fifth, the Pirates had runners on second and third with one out. Ke’Bryan Hayes lined out to Josh Bell, and both Pittsburgh runners took off when the ball was hit. Bell threw the ball to third baseman Ehire Adrianza, who tagged Hoy Park — originally the runner on second — out at third for a double play since Park didn’t tag up. The Nationals walked off the field, and that was that.
Simple, right? Well, apparently not.
The umpires conferred for several minutes and determined that the Pirates were to be awarded a run for Jack Suwinski, who started the play on third, didn’t tag up and scored before Adrianza tagged Park. Crew chief Mark Wegner told pool reporter Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post that because Adrianza tagged Park first and then never formally (verbally) appealed that Suwinski left early that the run counted. Then, since the Nationals left the field after the third out was made, they couldn’t return to make the appeal.
The rule is also known as the “fourth out rule” because the Nationals’ appeal would’ve technically been the fourth out of the inning, giving Martinez the option to choose which out would be advantageous for his team.
“Any time there’s an appeal, it has to be — the player, the fielder, has to be doing it for the obvious intent of appealing,” Wegner said.
“It has to be an intentional type thing,” Wegner continued. “You can’t just incidentally step on the base. Especially in that case, where we just said, ‘That’s the third out.’ So if you want a fourth out, you’re going to have to say, ‘We want an appeal for that.’”
But Martinez said the umpires told him that they never saw Adrianza touch the base and that’s why the run counted, which is different from what Wegner told Svrluga after the game. Video showed Adrianza did touch third base, but the play was not reviewable.
“I felt like we did everything right,” Martinez said. “They said he didn’t touch the base. … We’ll let the league handle that mess. It’s getting a little bit annoying, honestly. All of a sudden they never see anything.”
Bell said the 10-plus minutes in the dugout and on the field as the umpires tried to figure out what just happened was “pandemonium.” Bell, Martinez, Wegner and Adrianza all said that was the first time they’ve experienced a play like that.
“It was a lot of confusion about not being able to leave the field, and then come back and then go touch third, which we had already done,” Bell said. “I guess it’s a learning point for a lot of baseball fans and baseball players.”
The Nationals had another chance to retake the lead in the eighth, one inning after Yadiel Hernandez had cut Washington’s deficit to one run with a solo homer. But Luis Garcia lined out to left field with the bases loaded to end the threat. Pittsburgh reliever Yerry De Los Santos then shut the door in the ninth.
“It’s frustrating. We should be playing a tied game right now,” Adrianza said.
The Nationals tallied 16 hits in the loss, with all nine batters in the order recording at least one base knock. Former Pirate Josh Bell led the way, going 3-for-3 with two doubles and two walks.
Despite the loss, the Nationals (29-49) have still won six of their last nine games after the eight-game skid earlier this month.