Nationals baseball in 2022: Come to see the players who might contribute in the future. Stay for the utter confusion.
Oh, and the Nats lost, 8-7, at least in part because the Pirates scored a run on a double play on which the third out was recorded — and the Nationals didn’t take the time to record a fourth out.
“I don’t know how to say this nicely,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “How about that?”
“This is the first time I’ve been on the field for something like this,” said umpire Mark Wegner, the crew chief for the series.
Neither the Nationals nor the Pirates are going anywhere, even with a long summer still ahead. But on a given day, what might happen at the ballpark? Who the heck can say?
“Live and learn,” Nationals first baseman Josh Bell said. “I’m sure people will be talking about this for a long time.”
Never heard of Official Baseball Rule 5.09(c) (4)? Join the club. It popped up Wednesday. If you have no use for esoteric baseball minutia, turn the page and eat your cereal. If you love that kind of stuff, pull up a chair.
In the fifth inning of a tie game, the Pirates had runners on second and third with one out. Ke’Bryan Hayes hit a soft liner to Bell, who caught it before it hit the turf. The Pirates’ runners — Jack Suwinski at third and Hoy Park at second — broke to advance without tagging up, apparently thinking the ball bounced before Bell snared it for the second out. Bell saw Suwinski heading home and third baseman Ehire Adrianza still manning his spot.
“Nobody was tagging up,” Bell said. “I threw it to Adrianza there. It was wild because he makes a tag [and] he touches third. It was one of those scenarios where we didn’t think we had to do anything else.”
Why would they have to do anything else? Bell threw across the diamond, and Adrianza easily applied a tag on Park. Count ’em up. That’s one, two, three outs. The alphabet has 26 letters. Heinz has 57 varieties. There are three outs in an inning.
What, now you’re going to tell me there are 51 states?
(Man, we can dream.)
Pirates Manager Derek Shelton originally came out to argue that Bell hadn’t caught the ball in the air. But as Wegner gathered his crew, they considered something else: The third out wasn’t a force play, so it became a “timed” play. The important part: Adrianza’s tag of Park came after Suwinski had crossed home plate. So Suwinski’s run would count. A tie game turned into a 4-3 Pittsburgh lead.
“They came over and said, ‘Okay, because of the tag play at third base, it was going to be double play, run scores,’ ” Shelton said. “Then once from there, it turned into a different conversation.”
Heated, at times. The Nationals are in last place in the National League East and are likely to finish there. Their season is about figuring out what pieces will help for the future and what pieces they can trade for more of that future help.
But every single day they show up at the ballpark, they want to win.
“It stinks,” Bell said. “Especially to lose this game by one.”
Afterward, Martinez — whose club had won six of eight and has mostly cleaned up the embarrassing brand of baseball it played to open the season — was still incensed.
“I felt like we did everything right,” Martinez said. “We caught the ball. He threw it. He tagged the runner and the base. They said he didn’t touch the base.”
More murkiness here. Adrianza’s only thought: “Tag the runner and tag the base,” he said. But Wegner’s explanation was that it didn’t matter whether third base umpire Jeremie Rehak had seen Adrianza touch the base.
“At that point, if the third baseman wants to say, ‘I want to appeal that the guy that just scored from third left early,’ then we call what’s called the ‘fourth out,’ and then he can step on the base for that,” Wegner said. “But it has to be an intentional-type thing. You can’t just incidentally step on the base.”
Wegner read directly from the rule book as he explained this: If defensive players want to appeal for that fourth out, “they have to do that before the defensive team leaves the field, which is when the pitcher and all infielders have left fair territory on their way to the bench or the clubhouse.”
Play baseball for a lifetime, and the instinct to consider “there are three outs, but should I pursue a fourth?” has evaporated sometime in the year or two after T-ball. The reaction in the Nationals’ dugout?
“It was pandemonium,” Bell said. “It was a lot of confusion about not being able to leave the field and then come back and then go touch third, which we had already done. I guess it’s a learning point for a lot of baseball fans and baseball players.”
Among the press box explanations — given over several innings by official scorer Jason Lee — was the following:
“Ke’Bryan Hayes gets an RBI because there is nothing that prevents him from getting an RBI.”
So there you have it. Weird day.
Oh, and after that completely off-the-rails top of the fifth, an adjustment as a cherry on top: a ball hit by Washington’s Nelson Cruz that Park couldn’t corral at second base was changed from an error on Park to a hit for Cruz. For an entire afternoon, nothing was what it seemed to be.
“Hey, make up your mind!” one fan yelled from the upper deck. “You messed up my score book!”
On an afternoon that toyed with the mind, that fan’s score book wasn’t the only mess. For one day and one inning, a team was required to record four outs in an inning — and lost because of it. What next?