An obscure and confusing rule sent the game-winning run across for the Athletics in their 9–8 win over the Kansas City Royals Thursday afternoon. I hate this rule. It punishes the defense for making a cool play when a thing that baseball can’t possibly want to discourage right now is cool plays.
In the top of the eighth inning, with runners on second and third and one down, Corban Joseph of the A’s skied a pop-up into foul territory to the left of home plate. Royals third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert tracked the ball to the very edge of the A’s dugout and, teetering on the very top step and hovering over the drop into the dugout, reached out and snagged the ball out of the air to retire Joseph. Because there is no railing at the exact spot where Cuthbert made the catch, his center of gravity and momentum carried him down the steps and into the A’s dugout. Umpire Chris Segal emphatically signaled the out, but then also emphatically signaled for A’s baserunner Seth Brown to head on home. By rule, it turns out, Cuthbert’s tumble into the dugout after the catch meant that all runners should advance.
The relevant but irritating and counterproductive rule is 5.06 (b) (3) (C) in the official baseball rulebook, which goes as follows:
Rule 5.06(b)(3)(C) Comment: If a fielder, after having made a legal catch, should step or fall into any out-of-play area, the ball is dead and each runner shall advance one base, without liability to be put out, from his last legally touched base at the time the fielder entered such out-of-play area.
Our boy Cuthbert had no idea this was even a thing. He did what he could to avoid falling into the dugout, but mostly so that he would not hurt himself. He was as surprised as the broadcasters when Segal moved the runners along. Per MLB.com:
“At one point when I was getting close to the ball, I looked down to see where I was at — if it was going to be a tough play,” Cuthbert said. “That’s why my first instinct was to hold onto the railing to not fall into the dugout. When the ball was coming down, that’s the only shot I had.
“Then the umpire said the runners were going to advance a base. I didn’t know about that rule. Every day you learn something in baseball.”
So the A’s went up 9–7 on the play, and when the Royals plated only one run in the bottom half of the ninth, the run that came across on Cuthbert’s sweet catch became the final margin. Bullcrap.