Baserunning Tactic: Falling to the Ground, Effective and Legal
Although it sounds ridiculous, falling to the ground can be an effective tactic in your running game.
Take the following play.
The Yankees and Phillies played at Citizens Bank on Aug. 6. In the bottom of the third, the Phils had a 3-2 lead. Andrew McCutchen led off the inning with a base hit before Rhys Hoskins flied to center field. Bryce Harper then hit a ground ball to the second base area that was fielded by shortstop Gleyber Torres who was shifted. It appeared that Torres was going to execute the 6-6-3 double play. But McCutchen spoiled Torres’ plans when he fell to the ground.
Torres took the bait and bent over to tag McCutchen. By doing this he was unable to get Harper at first base. The unorthodox move by McCutchen averted a double play and kept the inning alive.
With two outs and Harper on first, J.T. Realmuto collected an infield hit before Phil Gosselin’s two-run double to left-center field extended the Phillies’ lead to 5-2. The two runs scored were pivotal as the Phils won the game, 5-4.
- McCutchen played smart Ruleball by falling to the ground. Because he was avoiding a tag, he had a restricted baseline which was a direct line to second base and he was not allowed to exceed three-feet on either side of the line. By falling to the ground, he stayed within the limits of the rule.
- A runner has a restricted baseline only when he is avoiding a tag. In the above play, McCutchen was avoiding Torres’ tag attempt. The tag attempt begins the moment the fielder with ball in hand or ball in glove makes movement to tag the runner. Prior to 2017, the fielder had to extend ball in glove or ball in hand toward the runner to restrict his baseline. This is no longer true-motion toward the runner is sufficient.
- MLB issued the following statement as to what constitutes a tag attempt.
OUT OF THE BASEPATH Rule 5.09(b)(1): When determining whether a base runner should be called out under Rule 5.09(b)(1), so long as the umpire determines that a play is being made on the runner and an attempt to tag is occurring, i.e. the fielder is moving to tag the runner, no physical tag attempt is required to call a runner out for leaving the basepath.
I wish MLB would use the term “baseline” rather than “basepath.” Nobody says a runner ran out of the “basepath.” I believe “running out of the baseline” is the conventional term.
- The worst thing McCutchen could have done would have been to avoid Torres’ tag horizontally (side-to-side). By doing that he would feed into the three-foot restriction of the baseline rule and would be called out. And chances are the Yankees would still have had time to retire Harper because the ball is not dead when a runner is ruled out for running out of the baseline.
- McCutchen could have also put pressure on Torres by back pedaling. That would require the Yankees’ shortstop to make a decision as to whether or not to go after McCutchen or throw to first. The one or two second delay is critical. Baseball is a game of seconds as well as inches.
- In my opinion once McCutchen disappeared, Torres should have made the play at first base. Chances are more than likely McCutchen would have been put out at second base or retired in a rundown. But being on the field might have created a different perspective.
- Flopping to the ground in a rundown, or any time when avoiding a tag, has its advantages. If a runner who is being chased in a rundown, falls to the ground just as the defensive player makes his throw, the runner can get up and head-hunt the thrower by going in the opposite direction of his throw. If the thrower doesn’t relinquish the proper space (3-feet to either side) to the runner, the runner could pick-up the Type 1 obstruction in this manner. The ball would be ruled dead and he would be awarded the next base after the one he already touched.
- Time Play: Assume in the above play the Phils had runners on first and third and one out when McCutchen took his dive. If Torres played Harper at first for the putout and McCutchen was subsequently called out, the run would score because the force was erased when Harper was called out and most likely the runner on third would have crossed the plate before the third out was recorded.
Chances are McCutchen learned his flop or dive move from former Pirates’ teammate Josh Harrison who was a master at escaping rundowns and tags by falling to the ground. Take the following play that occurred at PNC Park on June 27, 2014, when the Pirates hosted the Mets.
In the tenth inning, Harrison was on second base when Gregory Polanco hit a grounder back to pitcher Jenrry Mejia that started a marathon rundown thanks to Harrison’s clever base running. Harrison caught in a rundown between second and third featured six changes of direction and two dives to the ground.
“When I saw them getting close, I dropped, and it worked the first time, so I did it a couple more times, and eventually got out of it,” Harrison said. “I was just in the moment.”
Harrison said he originally just wanted to make sure he gave Polanco enough time to advance to second, but he ended up doing much more…
Collins said postgame that he thought Harrison was out of the baseline and went out to plead his case to no avail.
Collins would have had a good running out of the baseline argument by today’s liberal tag attempt rule which only requires motion in the direction of the runner by the fielder to restrict the runner’s baseline. But in 2014, Harrison’s baseline was not restricted until the fielder extended ball in glove or ball in hand toward the runner.
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