Sometimes, it is necessary to haul out the written and unwritten rules of baseball to correctly diagnose what we just saw. Other times, the rule is basic and easily applied – but the real impact of the play cannot be seen until the game goes final. The Tampa Bay Rays had a run taken off the board in the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox on August 31, 2016 because Tim Beckham pulled up early. Check the box score and you won’t find it – but check the videotape, and lollygagging – and its impact on the outcome – is obvious.
After Logan Morrison led off the inning with a solo homer to extend the Rays lead to 4-1, Beckham singled to left field. Steven Wright retired the next two hitters – striking out left fielder Corey Dickerson and inducing a pop up from catcher Bobby Wilson – but walked Logan Forsythe, moving Beckham to second. The Boston knuckleballer worked to Kevin Kiermaier, getting ahead on a 1-2 count. But the Rays’ center fielder then laced a ground ball between the second base bag and the outstretched glove of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
With two outs, Tim Beckham is supposed to be off on contact. There should be plenty of time to score. However, Beckham isn’t exactly giving his best effort as he slowly jogs away from second and toward third base:
Red Sox rightfielder Mookie Betts charged the ball aggressively while Kiermaier steamed around first base and headed for second. Betts gloved the ball cleanly, transferred it to his throwing hand, and unleashed a strong, accurate throw to shortstop Xander Bogaerts – who is in perfect position to apply the tag on a sliding Kiermaier. Tampa’s centerfielder is called out, gunned down trying to stretch a single into a double with two outs in the inning.
However, Kiermaier is ruled out at second base BEFORE Beckham crosses the plate. Per Rule 5.08, the runner must cross the plate before Kiermaier’s out is recorded or the inning is over – and the runner does not score. Take a closer look at Beckham from this angle – behind the plate – and you can see clearly what happened:
Kiermaier busted out of the box giving his best effort – clearly aiming for two bases from the get-go. Forsythe also dashed quickly away from first base, intent on rounding second and ending up on third. But Beckham does not exhibit the urgency of his teammates. The Rays shortstop is jogging – clearly not running very hard – toward third base as the ball skips past Pedroia’s glove and into the grass in short right field. As the camera zooms in – and then out again – Tampa’s third base coach has thrown his hands up to hold Forsythe at third base.
Meanwhile, Beckham has continued his sedate excursion around third and is barely halfway home when Betts collected the ball and came up firing. As the ball lanced toward second base, Beckham can be seen to slow down a little. It appears the Rays’ shortstop is pulling up a bit so he doesn’t need to run very far past the plate before making the turn towards his dugout.
Beckham’s lollygagging ends up costing the Rays a run, because Kiermaier is tagged out at second before Beckham crosses the plate. Beckham could have scored easily – had he been running full speed upon contact, he might have been in the dugout by the time Kiermaier was thrown out. But because of his laissez-faire attitude, Beckham is still several steps away from home plate when the second base umpire signals “out”. As the clip above ends, you can see the home plate umpire glancing at the listless Beckham and begin to signal “this run does not count” to the official scorer.
The Red Sox battled back to tie this game in the next half-inning, then coughed up the lead, allowing the Rays to tie it before both team exchanged runs in the 8th inning. This back-and-forth scoring resulted in a couple of ties and then a slim, two-run margin of victory for the home team. Who knows how the game would have gone if the Rays had not lost a run because of Beckham’s leisurely stroll home. Would manager Kevin Cash had made different pitching decisions up by a run in the bottom of the eighth rather than in a tie game?
After the game, Beckham was demoted to AAA, this latest incident being the third time in the last week that the shortstop has committed a baserunning blunder – and the second time he failed to run hard while on the bases. The former first-round pick has been slow to develop for the Rays, and at age 26, his future is very much in doubt after this latest example of his lack of effort and baseball intelligence.
From the lowest rungs of the Little League ladder, players are told to run hard – especially with two outs in the inning – because anything can happen. Had Beckham been running hard on this play, he would have scored before Kiermaier was thrown out, the Rays would have extended their lead, and the game would have likely gone differently in the late innings. But, because of Beckham’s casual ramble toward home plate, the Red Sox won a key late season game. Lollygaggers never succeed in baseball: