News From Left Field

Gus Ruelas/AP
Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Russell
Martin looks to the officials after New
York Mets' Ryan Church failed to touch
third base.

Ryan Church’s Baserunning Blunder Recalls Others Who Missed Bases

May 20, 2009 10:30 AM
by Denis Cummings
Ryan Church, who missed third base while trying to score Monday, joins players such as David Justice and Fred Merkle who missed a base in a key situation.

Church Misses Third

The Mets made five errors in Monday night’s loss to the Dodgers, including two in the bottom of the 11th that handed the Dodgers the winning run. However, an error that isn’t included in the box score has received the most attention.

While rounding third to score the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th, Mets right fielder Ryan Church failed to touch the bag. The Dodgers noticed his mistake and tagged third; umpire Mike DiMuro called Church out, negating his run and ending the inning.

“It’s hard to miss third base,” said Mets manager Jerry Manuel. “I don’t know if I ever remember seeing anyone miss third base in a situation like that. I don’t have any explanation for it.”

Background: Missing the base

Church was called out under rule 7.10 (b), which states that a runner is out if, “With the ball in play, while advancing or returning to a base, he fails to touch each base in order before he, or a missed base, is tagged.”

Though this situation doesn’t happen often, it isn’t uncommon to see a runner mistakenly miss a base and be called out. A somewhat recent example transpired very similarly to the Church play: In a 2007 game reported by AP, the Yankees’ Robinson Cano missed third while scoring on a two-out triple, and was called out after the Angels appealed.

The most famous case of missing third base occurred in the 4th inning of Game 5 of the 1991 NLCS, writes The New York Times, when a single by Braves second baseman Mark Lemke appeared to allow right fielder David Justice to score. The Pirates argued that Justice, who stumbled while rounding third, had missed the bag; they appealed and umpire Frank Pulli called Justice out. The Pirates went on to win the game 1-0.

Justice insisted afterward that he had touched the base. “If I didn’t touch it, I would’ve stopped right there,” he said. “I didn’t pound it, but I touched it.” Though the loss left the Braves down 3-2 in the series, they bailed out Justice by winning the next two in Pittsburgh to advance to the World Series.

Players have also missed the bag due to neglecting or not knowing the rulebook. For example, writes Baseball Digest, in 2001 the Orioles’ Melvin Mora was on first when the Red Sox threw the ball into the stands. The umpire awarded Mora two bases, telling him to advance to third. Mora, jogged straight across the diamond from first to third, failing to touch second. Before the next pitch, the Red Sox appealed to second and Mora was called out.

In a famous example from 1908, the New York Giants’ Fred Merkle was on first with two outs in the ninth when a single scored the game-winning run from third. Merkle didn’t bother to advance to second and ran off the field as the home crowd stormed the field, describes the Times.

The Cubs’ Johnny Evers appealed and Merkle was called out and, with the crowd already on the field, the game was ruled a tie. After the Cubs and Giants finished the season with a tie record, the game was replayed and the Cubs won. They advanced to the World Series and won what remains their most recent World Series title.

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