Baseball is a unique sport filled with situations that you may only see once every few years, if at all. Umpires must be prepared to rule on these situations in real time, but we have our own expert to rely upon. Brandon Magee explains why Dustin Pedroia was ruled safe at home despite Luke Maille’s tag.
Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. Yet it still provides long-time spectators events that they have never seen before – or will again. As baseball fans, we are well aware of the written and unwritten rules that govern the game. However, sometimes players break into modern dance.
In a tie ballgame in the top of the tenth inning, David Ortiz drove a ball to the left-center field gap off of Tampa Bay Rays’ right-handed reliever Eddie Gamboa. Dustin Pedroia, who had reached previously on a single, took off on contact from first base the pitch and looking to score. The relay from centerfielder Jaff Decker via second baseman Logan Forsythe to catcher Luke Maile arrives before Pedroia does at the plate. And then, the dance begins:
Pedroia masterfully dodges the first tag attempt by Maile, sidestepping the swipe. Dustin nearly falls to the ground trying to stop his momentum, while Maile recovers and makes a second attempt to tag him – again too far to touch the diminutive second baseman. The Red Sox baserunner darts toward the plate, trying to find a way to score the run by touching the dish while Maile tries for a third time to apply the tag. This time, the catcher manages to touch Pedroia, who is somehow both lunging forward at the plate and wiggling away from the tag. home plate umpire Sam Holbrook almost calls Pedroia out, but at the last possible moment sees the ball rolling freely along the third baseline. As the ball trickles down the line, the umpire spreads his arms and shows the safe sign.
The definition of a tag in the MLB Rulebook is:
A TAG is the action of a fielder in touching a base with his body while holding the ball securely and firmly in his hand or glove; or touching a runner with the ball, or with his hand or glove holding the ball (not including hanging laces alone), while holding the ball securely and firmly in his hand or glove. It is not a tag, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his touching a base or touching a runner, the fielder drops the ball. In establishing the validity of the tag, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball. If the fielder has made a tag and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw following the tag, the tag shall be adjudged to have been made.
The key to completing an out via a tag is that the fielder must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of applying the glove containing the ball to the baserunner. Made clear by replay – both above, and on the field as the umpires reviewed the play – by the time Maile actually put his glove on Pedroia’s leg, the ball had been jostled out of the glove and onto the ground.
Despite the requisite appeal by Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash, the umpires confirmed that Pedroia touched home plate. Pedroia and Holbrook ended up the victors in this situation: Pedroia for escaping a dead-to-rights situation to score the winning run, and Holbrook for watching the play until its full conclusion, and applying the rules correctly.