I have my friend Paul Merideth (who’s a baseball newbie) to thank for this one. I hadn’t heard about it until he mentioned it. It was just a week ago today. It’s the top of the second inning in Philadelphia. Cliff Lee is pitching to the Mets’ pitcher, R.A. Dickey. There’s a runner on first with less than two outs, so naturally the Mets pitcher is going to bunt him over into scoring position. The bunt is executed perfectly, and the entire play is exactly what you see hundreds of times every year in the National League. It’s what happens after the play is completed that is certainly not your everyday baseball . . . .
What was he thinking??? This is as bad as the guys that actually get fooled by the “fake to third, throw to first” move so many pitchers try. Or, maybe you’ve seen it actually work, when the first baseman is holding the runner on, and he pretends like he threw the ball back to the pitcher, and the runner actually takes a step off the bag and is immediately tagged out by the first baseman. Ah, the trickery of baseball. Anything to get an out. And, you certainly can’t blame Jimmy Rollins for trying it . . . because it worked! You’ve gotta keep your head up, and know exactly what’s going on in this game.
Another friend of mine, Nick Gill, asked a question that I didn’t know the answer to when he saw this play. He wondered why the Phillies had to tag Thole at all. He thought that once Thole had made it to second base, if he retreated back to first he was immediately called out. So, he looked it up on MLB.com’s website for me, and here was the first rule he found:
Rule 7.08(i): “Any runner is out when – After he has acquired legal possession of a base, he runs the bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game. The umpire shall immediately call “Time” and declare the runner out.”
In addition to thinking that the umpires might have made the Phillies do more than was necessary in this instance, we also thoroughly enjoyed the language of this rule! “for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game” That’s fun language – and, a reminder of the way the game of baseball was held in such regard in years gone by. But, be that as it may, Nick quickly realized there was a note at the bottom of this rule that clarified what exactly happened in this game:
“If a runner touches an unoccupied base and then thinks the ball was caught or is decoyed into returning to the base he last touched, he may be put out running back to that base, but if he reaches the previously occupied base safely he cannot be put out while in contact with that base.” So, this play was played out exactly as the rules say it should be. But, not exactly how Josh Thole would have preferred. And, certainly not the way you would ever expect to see again for maybe the rest of your life!