In baseball, the fourth out is a legal out made by the defense after three outs in a half-inning already have been made. According to the rules, the third out does not cause the ball to become dead; if the fielders make a subsequent out that prevents a run from scoring, this out will supersede the apparent third out, thus becoming the recorded third out. For statistical purposes, the apparent third out is "undone" and the fourth out's result is recorded instead. With the advent of video replay appeals, a new rationale for making extra out(s) has emerged - insurance against a prior out being undone on appeal. These fourth out situations are not the same as four strikeouts in an inning.
When runs score
The motivation for making a fourth out is to nullify a scored run, by either putting out the runner who had scored (on appeal, if the player failed to tag up after a catch) or putting out an additional runner who is forced to advance.
No run may score on an inning-ending play in which the third out is a force out or on the batter before he reaches first base. Put in other words, force outs count before runs are scored. It is common that a runner reaches home plate a moment before the third out is made by force out. Such a case is routine; the runner doesn't score but is counted as left on base.
It is also common that the third out might come on a non-force tag out after another runner reaches home plate. By extension of these two rules, the "fourth out" covers the case where the third out is not a force out, but a subsequent out is. Since the force out counts before the run scores, it must also count before the third out.
Apparently there are no known MLB examples of a fourth out changing places with a prior out and thereby cancelling a run. The situations where a fourth out may be recognized are exceedingly rare, but some hypothetical examples, and two real examples where the fourth out rule did come into play, are noted below:
Example: An appeal force out
- The ball has not become dead (i.e., a home run, ground-rule double, umpire interference, or fan interference).
- The ball is not caught before hitting the ground.
All three runners cross home plate safely, but the runner who was at first misses second base while rounding the bases. After the runner from first has come around to score, the batter is then thrown out trying to stretch a bases-clearing double into a triple. The apparent play is that 3 runners have scored on an apparent double, with the batter out advancing.
RULING: The fielders have a viable appeal play at second base. If the defensive team is alert enough and understand the rules regarding fourth outs, the defensive team may make a live ball appeal that the runner who was initially at first base missed second base. If such an appeal is made, the runner from first base is out on a force out, because he failed to touch his force base (second base). As a result:
- The force out, according to the rules of baseball, means that the batter is credited with a fielder's choice and not a base hit.
- Since no run may score on a play where the final out of a half-inning is a force out, the inning is over and no run counts. All three apparent runs come off the board.
- The scoring is as follows: Batter grounds into fielder's choice, runner at first out at second (for failing to touch second), 3 runners left on base.
This rule merely places the occurrence of the force out before any tag play when it ends the inning.
Example: A non-appeal out
Suppose there are runners on second and third base with two outs, and the batter hits a ground ball to third base. The runner from third scores, but the runner from second base is tagged out for the third out. Since the runner from third reached home plate before the third out was recorded, and the third out was not a force out or on the batter-runner before reaching first base, we seem to have three outs and a run scored. However, suppose that the batter-runner fell down on his way to first base and was injured, unable to walk (or that, having seen the runner tagged out, turned around and headed for the dugout before reaching first base). Then suppose that the fielders throw to first or tag the batter out. Since no run can score if the last out is made on the batter before he reaches first base, this fourth out prevents a run from scoring. Thus the runner from third is marked as left on base and his apparent run does not count; the runner from second is also left on base and his out is nullified; the batter-runner is out, which now becomes the actual third out.
Example: A quick fourth out
There are runners at first and third with two outs. The runners are attempting to steal on the pitch. The batter grounds to the shortstop. The runner from third base reaches home; then, the shortstop tags the runner who has rounded second (third out). The shortstop then throws to first base, which beats the batter-runner for the fourth out. The fourth out is on the batter before he reaches first base, so it replaces the apparent third out and nullifies the run.
Example: A missed fourth out allows a run to score
On April 12, 2009, in the top of the second inning in a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Dodgers scored a run because the Diamondbacks failed to record a fourth out. With one out and Juan Pierre on second base and Andre Ethier on third base, Dodgers pitcher Randy Wolf hit a line drive that was caught by Diamondbacks pitcher Dan Haren. Both Pierre and Ethier broke on contact without tagging up from their respective bases, and Haren, noticing this, threw the ball to Diamondbacks second baseman Felipe Lopez, who tagged out Pierre, but not until after Ethier crossed home plate. Upon tagging out Pierre, the Diamondbacks left the field, thinking that the inning was over and the run did not count. Had Lopez simply stepped on second base – prior to Either crossing the plate – no run would have been scored. Tagging the runner or stepping on the bag both involve a “time play,” requiring the plate umpire to judge the position of Ethier at the time of the putout. After all of the Diamondbacks players had left fair territory, Dodgers bench coach Bob Schaefer informed manager Joe Torre of what was then Rule 7.10 (now Rule 5.09(c)) regarding fourth outs, and Torre went to home plate umpire Larry Vanover to alert him of the rule and situation. Vanover then discussed the situation with crew chief Charlie Reliford, and Dodgers were awarded the run before the bottom of the second inning began. Since all of the Diamondbacks players had left fair territory, nobody could appeal that Ethier had not tagged up. If the Diamondbacks had launched an appeal play at third base before leaving the field, Ethier's failure to tag from third base would have become the actual third out of the inning and the run would not have scored, and this out would have taken precedence because it would have erased the run.
Example: A successful fourth out squelches a threat
On April 18, 2014, in the bottom of the second inning of a game between the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves, the Braves squelched an incipient Mets offensive threat by recording an "insurance" fourth out that anticipated a potential video replay appeal (where there was a major expansion of permitted reviewable plays beginning that season) by Mets manager Terry Collins. With two out and Lucas Duda as the runner at first, Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud grounded softly to the right side and, attempting to beat the throw by Braves second baseman Dan Uggla to first baseman Freddie Freeman, was ruled out at first on an extremely close play. Yet with three outs now recorded, Freeman spotted Duda, put in motion by d'Arnaud's grounder, attempting to reach third base and threw the ball across the diamond to third baseman Chris Johnson, who successfully tagged Duda out before he could reach the bag. Moments later Collins, who had emerged from the dugout to appeal the out at first (replays shown to the television audience revealed that d'Arnaud was actually safe at first and that Collins would probably have won his appeal) was forced to retreat to the dugout without a challenge when he realized that Freeman and Johnson's successfully recorded fourth out had rendered his challenge meaningless.
- "MLB Official Rules 7.10". MLB.com. Retrieved 2009-04-12.
- "MLB Official Rules (revised 2016)" (PDF). Retrieved 24 October 2016.
- Nick Kapur (12 April 2009). "Crazy weird "fourth out" rule rears its head in Dodgers victory". UmpBump. Retrieved October 24, 2016.
- Gurnick, Ken (2009-04-12). "Dodgers get run on 'fourth-out rule'". MLB.com. Retrieved 2009-04-12.
- "Harang, Bullpen Combine For One-Hitter'". ESPN.go.com. 2014-04-19. Retrieved 2014-04-19.