Can Teammates Assist a Runner to First Base?
The Rangers-Orioles game on July 4th in Baltimore ended on an intriguing note.
With the score tied 6-6, Rougned Odor led off the 10th with a bunt single off Rangers’ pitcher Matt Moore that advanced automatic runner Austin Hays to third. Moore then intentionally walked Ramón Urías to load the bases before hitting Luis Mateo with his next pitch. Mateo was awarded first base and the game ended after Hays, the runner on third, touched the plate.
Mateo bent over in pain for several seconds. After crossing the plate, Hays pushed Mateo toward first base and accompanied the hobbling Oriole to first along with Cedric Mullins, who was on deck, and Odor.
Plate umpire John Tumpane and his crew (Todd Tichenor, John Bacon, and Rob Drake) saw no violation and the game ended.
But following the game, questions began to arise? Was it legal for teammates to assist Mateo to first base? And was it legal for Hays to assist Mateo after he scored the winning run?
- The play in question is not specifically covered in the rules, and from my perspective, the inaction taken by the umpires was the proper thing to do. This was a dead ball situation with automatic base awards, and the assistance given to Mateo and other teammates did not interfere with the Rangers in making a play. And such assistance in situation is not covered in the rules.
- Rule 8.01 (c) gives umpires the authority to rule on any point specifically not covered in the rules. This is a rare example when umpires must use “common sense” as recommended in the Major League Baseball Umpire Manual.
- Did Hays, by pushing Mateo, violate the rules? Rule 6.01 (a) (5) reads, “It is interference by a batter or a runner when any batter or runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate.” But since the defense had no way of retiring the batter-runner or any other runner, the run scores. The rule was designed for a play in which the ball is live and a runner who just scored prevents the defensive team in some way from making a play. Hays, by pushing Mateo, was not preventing the Rangers from making a play because the ball was dead.
- In a live ball situation, an active runner, one who has not been put out or scored, can assist another runner as long as he doesn’t pass him. Teammates, not involved in the play, cannot come off the bench to assist. But the rules do not cover the scenario under discussion.
- A manager is allowed to use a substitute runner when a runner is incapacitated, and he is given an automatic base award. In my opinion this is a good practice to follow in any situation. Example: A batter hits a home run and pulls a hamstring between first and second base. The manager, the runner, or one of the base coaches should call “Time” and insert a substitute runner to complete the base award. According to Elias, the batter who hit the home run will get credit for the dinger while the pinch-runner will get credit for a run scored.
- In the above play, O’s manager Brandon Hyde could have used a pinch-runner for Mateo. In a normal situation, there is no rule that says the batter must touch first base before he can be substituted. A manger can substitute for a runner any time the ball is dead.
- Rule 5.08 (b) reads, “When a game ends with the bases loaded on an automatic base award on a dead ball, only the batter-runner needs to touch first base and the runner on third needs to touch the plate.
- In the above play, because there were no outs, if Mateo never touched first base, in my opinion, the game should end because of the automatic base award. If Mateo, the batter-runner was the third out for failing to touch first, then Hays’ run would not count because no run can score when the batter-runner makes the third out before reaching first base. But it is my understanding that the current interpretation from MLB requires the batter-runner or his substitute to touch first base for the purpose of forcing home the runner from third regardless of the number of outs. Because it’s an automatic base award for all runners, I don’t see the logic. But if that’s the interpretation from MLB, teams must make sure that the runner from third and the batter-runner, or his substitute, should touch first base in game-ending situations that relate to rule 5.08 (b).
- The MLBUM states, “When the winning run is scored in the last half inning of a regulation game, or the last half inning of an extra inning game with the bases full as the result of any play other than those set forth in the official baseball rule 5.08 (b), the ball is in play and the runners may be retired. This makes clear that in a 5:08 (b) play which is what we have here, the ball is not in play and runners may not be retired.
- Keep in mind there are several dead ball situations that would require a penalty if there was illegal assistance. Example: If a runner misses a base during a dead ball situation and a coach physically assists him to touch the base, that would be illegal even though the ball is dead. In addition, if a runner who had just scored or been putout assists another runner in a dead ball situation, excluding a 5.08 (b) situation, it would be illegal.
- The dynamics of the game dictate that every possible situation is not covered in the Official Rules of Major League Baseball.
- Umpires must use “common sense” when they are presented with a situation that is not covered in the rules. In my opinion the umpires working the July 4th Orioles-Rangers game exercised good judgment and “common sense” by not overthinking.
- A wise former umpire once told me, it is critically important to know what is in the book so that you know what is not in it. The best answer is “common sense.”
Rules consultant/analyst: D’backs, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Rays, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Bally Sports, ESPN, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago.