Rulebook 101: Unconventional Force Play at First

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 a force play at first was called correctly after the application of replay review and the rulebook.

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. But sometimes, baserunning can be tricky.

In the third inning of a scoreless game in Oakland, Houston Astros’ centerfielder Jake Marisnick popped up trying to lay down a sacrifice bunt on a pitch by Sean Manaea. Although first baseman Yonder Alonso was in position to catch the pop up, he instead allowed it to drop.

Force PlayMuch like we discussed in our Infield Fly Rule article, this was a heads up play by Alonso because his intentional failure to catch the ball put the Athletics in a position to turn a double play. There are two keys to this possibility happening:

  1. Getting Marisnick out at first and;
  2. Having the baserunner on first, Teoscar Hernandez, forced at second base – for a tag double play – or get caught in a pickle off of first base.

But, this simple plan was thwarted by both Hernandez – who stayed close to first base even after the ball was allowed to fall – and by Marisnick, who complicated matters for the A’s by going to the ground to avoid the tag from Alonso. First base umpire Clint Fagan signaled safe as Marisnick touched first base. Hernandez, seeing the call, drifted off the bag and was tagged out. The correct rule to be invoked in this situation was 5.06(b)(2):

If a runner is forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner and two runners are touching a base to which the following runner is forced, the following runner is entitled to the base and the preceding runner shall be out when tagged or when a fielder possesses the ball and touches the base to which such preceding runner is forced.

However, the implementation of instant replay further complicated this already confusing convention at first base. If Marisnick had been actually tagged out by Alonso, then Hernandez’s wanderlust would have completed the unusual double play. Or, at least that was the opinion of Manager Bob Melvin, who briefly played the game under protest, after the umpires reversed the safe call at first base.

Ultimately, the umpires have discretion to place runners where they believed they would have ended up absent the incorrect ruling by Rule 8.02(c) – which we discussed in greater detail in this article. Given that Hernandez was standing on the bag until the erroneous safe call was given, the umpires were correct to place him back there after ruling that Marisnick was tagged out.

While Alonso tried to pull off a heads up play, he was undone by good base running by the Astros. But his attempted shenanigans almost worked due to an incorrect call by the first base umpire. Ultimately, thanks to instant replay and the rulebook, the umpires correctly kept Hernandez at first base. Ultimately, the kerfuffle was for naught, as Yulieski Gurriel would end the inning by grounding into a double play.


Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.

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