There was a very odd play in the Cubs/Nats game yesterday.
Where do we begin. First, Kris Bryant seems to reach the area of first base before Gonzalez touches it. But, Bryant does not touch the base.
Of course he does not touch the base because Gonzalez is in his way. I suppose he could have spiked him, but this does not seem to be Bryant’s MO.
Gonzalez then rolls onto the base with his shin before Bryant completely passes the bag. The umpire calls an out.
Did he get it right? I think the answer is yes.
First question – was Bryant obstructed from the base.
Here is the definition:
OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Gonzalez clearly had the ball so this is not obstruction. Interesting side note, if it was obstruction, the umpire can take any action that nullifies the act. This includes awarding a touch of a base.
Second question – how should the umpire handle the situation where the runner acquires first base but does not touch it.
This is actually handled in the PBUC (Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation) manual. Here is there sample play:
Play 13: Batter-runner hits a ground ball and beats the play at first base but misses the bag.
Ruling 13: The proper mechanic is to call the batter-runner “Safe,” indicating he beat the play. If the defense appeals by tagging the runner (or base) and appealing that the runner missed first base before the runner returns to first base, the batter-runner would be declared out. (See Official Baseball Rule 7.08( k) Casebook Comment.)
Here is the rub though. To “beat” the play and acquire the base – you have to be completely past it. Since Bryant was equal to the base, he had not formally missed it. If he had not missed a base, he is not subject to appeal yet.
Further if he is not subject to appeal, all Gonzalez has to do is touch the base with possession for an out. This is exactly what happened.
Let’s imagine Bryant was completely past the base when Gonzalez touched it (but still did not touch it himself). The umpire would have ruled the runner safe. Then it would be up to the pitcher to formally appeal the missed base. Him rolling over the base is not sufficient to appeal.
From the book:
An appeal should be clearly intended as an appeal, either by a verbal request by the player or an act that unmistakably indicates an appeal to the umpire.
Gonzalez would have had to retouch the base telling the umpire Bryant missed it or went and tagged Bryant.
Crazy play with a lot of moving parts. Bottom line is the umpire got this all right in real time. I watched most of the game last night. The first base umpire had a lot of bangers. He did great on all of them. Those guys are good.
Appeal plays are covered on page 34 of RuleGraphics.