FanPost

Rules Roundup: Force Plays


Everyone knows what a force play is, right? Maybe... Let's look at the rulebook definition of force., which is in the definitions section in section 2.00 and is quite specific: "A FORCE PLAY is a play in which a runner legally loses his right to occupy a base by reason of the batter becoming a runner." This may occur because the batter has put the ball in play and is now trying for first base. Or it may occur because the batter has been awarded one or more bases (e.g., a walk), or because of a dropped third strike. A runner is forced when the batter is advancing to first base, and there is no empty base between the batter and the runner. This is obviously true if the runner is on first base; if he's on second or third, he is forced if every base behind him is occupied by a runner.

Force situations divide into two categories:

  • 1. The runner is forced because the batter is trying for first base. In this case, the runner is at liability to be put out, and can be put out by means of tagging the base to which he is forced.

  • 2. The second category is when the runner is forced because the batter, or a runner behind him, has been awarded one or more bases. Anytime the batter or runner is entitled to advance one ore more bases without liability to be put out, any runners who are forced are also entitled to advance without liability to be put out, even if they would not have been entitled to advance otherwise.

Force when Batter is Awarded First Base

Let's take this case first, because it is simpler. When the batter is entitled to advance to first base without liability to be put out, all runners who are forced are entitled to advance to the next base without liability to be put out, per rule 7.04(b). Runners who are not forced hold their bases (unless another rule awards bases to the runners). The ball may be alive (for example, when the batter draws a walk) or dead (e.g., the batter has been hit by a pitch) when this is occurring, depending on the situation. If the ball is alive, the forced runner loses his immunity from being put out once he touches the base to which he is forced. A basic example is when the batter draws a walk. The batter may advance to first base without liability to be put out. If there is a runner on first, he is forced and may advance to second without liability to be put out. Runners not forced do not get to advance, unless they do it at their own risk.

There are a few situations in which a runner may be awarded bases independently of what the batter does, such as when a fielder obstructs a runner. In these, a runner ahead who occupies the awarded base is forced (without liability to be put out), while runners behind hold their bases. Situation: Able at second, Baker at first, nobody out. The batter hits a ground ball through the hole on the right side. The batter reaches safely and the runners advance to second and third and make their turns, but as the Baker turns and attempts to retreat to second, he is obstructed by the shortstop. Under the obstruction rules, he is awarded third base, and Able is forced home, while the batter remains at first.

Force When Ball is in Play

When the batter puts the ball in play, or in certain situations where there is a dropped third strike, he is forced to advance to first base. (The force is always on the batter at first base.) Because of this, as called out in rule 7.08(e), any runners who are forced no longer have a safe harbor on the bases that they occupy, and they must try to advance to the next base or be put out. The force comes off of a runner when one of two things happen: (1) the runner touches the next base, or (2) the batter or a runner behind is put out. Should the runner, after reaching the base to which he is forced, retreat back towards the previous base (such as in a mistaken belief that a fly ball was caught), the force is on again. Additionally, the force remains on if the runner misses the base to which he is being forced [see the comment under rule 6.08(a)]. Missed bases can turn into appeal plays, and I'll cover how the force works in appeal plays in the Rules Roundup for appeals.

Note that the batter's attempt to advance past first base does not put additional force on runners. Nor does a trailing runner's attempt to gain additional bases put force on runners ahead of him. So, with a runner on first, the batter hits a line drive to left field. The runner advances to second and stops, but the batter rounds first and keeps going, and both wind up on second. The ball comes in and the shortstop tags both of them. Who is out? The batter is out, because the force came off of the runner as soon as he reached second base. When two runners are on a base, and there is no force, the base belongs to the leading runner (the runner who got there first).

(The Infield Fly rule works to prevent the defense from turning an easy double or triple play by calling the batter out and thereby eliminating the force on the runners. If the batter were not called out in a situation where the Infield Fly rule applies, then the defense could let the ball drop untouched, and the runners who were frozen by the pop-up would then be forced. The Infield Fly call, by calling the batter out, takes the force off and then the runners can simply hold their bases. Another article in this series covers the Infield Fly.)

The Golden Rule of Force Outs

In determining when the third out is made to end an inning, force outs override everything else. The Golden Rule of Force Outs (rule 7.12): No run can score on any play in which a force out is made for the third out. If the bases are loaded with one out, the batter hits a ground ball to the shortstop, and the defense turns a 6-4-3 double play, no run can score on that play. Even if the runner from third succeeds in crossing the plate before the out is made at first base, the run does not count. However, sometimes the way in which a play is turned causes the force to be taken off, with the result that the third out is not a force out, and then it becomes a "time play" – it matters which event happened first. Consider bases loaded with one out, and the batter hits a ground ball to first. The first baseman steps on first to force out the batter, and then throws to second, where the runner trying for that base is tagged out. In this case, the third out was not a force out (the force was taken off when the batter was put out at first), and so if the runner from third succeeds in crossing the plate before the out is made at second, the run counts. This is why the 3-6-3 double play exists: it's a way of turning the DP on a ground ball to first, in such a way that the third out is a force out.

Force On, Force Off

The force is off of a runner once the have successfully advanced to the base to which they have been forced. Attempts by the batter, or a runner behind them, to gain additional bases does not put the force back on. For instance, Able is on first. The batter gets a hit; Able stops at second, but the batter keeps going and also winds up on second. Able has reached the base to which he was forced, so as long as he remains in contact with the base, he cannot be put out. However, the batter can be put out, even if he is on the base, because the runner who got there first (Able) is entitled to the base.

The force is also off a runner the moment that the batter, or a runner behind him, is put out. Let's put Able at first again. The batter hits a dribbler down the first-base line; the catcher fields it, chases the batter, and tags him out on the base line. Seeing this, Able returns to first. The catcher throws to the first baseman, who takes the throw, steps on first base, and says that Able should be out. Is he right? No. The force was taken off Able when the batter was tagged out by the catcher. If he remains in contact with first base, he cannot be put out.

A runner who misses a base has not legally gained that base. This is an appeal play, but the force can pertain to the outcome of the play if the runner is called out on appeal. If the runner was forced at the base he missed, then the appeal out is a force out, and the Golden Rule of Force Outs applies.

Fly Ball Outs

At this point you ask: "A runner who is returning to a base after a fly ball has been caught can be put out by means of the fielder holding the ball and touching the base. Isn't this a force out?" Answer: by rule book definition, it is not, even though the runner can be put out in the same manner. It makes a difference in that the Golden Rule of Force Outs does not apply, and so if a runner is trying to score, it becomes a time play. An example play: Able at third, Baker at first, one out. The batter hits a fly ball to right field. Able sees that the ball will be caught, tags up, and then advances to home after the catch. However, Baker runs on contact, and is nearly at second base when the catch is made. He tries to return, but the throw comes to first and the first baseman steps on the base to put him out. The third out is, by rulebook definition, not a force play (all forces came off when the batter was put out by means of the fly ball being caught), so if Able crosses the plate before Baker is put out, the run counts. The example-play case note under the definition of force play in section 2.00 of the rulebook specifically covers this.

Dropped Third Strikes

A third strike not caught by the catcher is, in effect, a ball in play. The batter is forced to first base, and can be put out in the normal manner for force outs by a player holding the ball and touching first base.

However, Rule 6.05(c) provides that when there are less than two out and first base is occupied, meaning that a runner would be forced, the batter is out when strike three is called, whether it is caught or not. As in the case of the Infield Fly rule, this rule is present to prevent the defense from turning a cheap double or triple play by means of the catcher intentionally dropping the third-strike pitch. With two out, this special rule does not apply; the batter is forced to first on a dropped third strike and runners may be forced. If with two out, the bases are loaded and the batter strikes out, but the pitch pops out of the catcher's glove, the catcher may make the out by e.g., picking up the ball and stepping on the plate to force out the runner from third.

Example plays:

  1. Able is at first, one out. On a hit-and-run, he takes off for second. The batter swings and hits a soft grounder to short. Able makes a late slide at second as the defense tries to execute a double play; he touches second before the throw reaches the second baseman, but then overslides the bag and loses contact. The second baseman, not seeing this, tags the bag and then makes his pivot, throwing to first in time to get the batter. The defense then argues that it should be a double play since Able was forced at second. Is it a double play? ANSWER: No. The force came off of Able the moment he touched the base; the second baseman would have needed to tag Able to put him out on the overslide.

  2. Able is at third and Baker at first with two out. The batter hits a ground ball to second. Baker, seeing that he will be out easily, stops halfway to second and starts to back up, trying to trick the defense. The ruse works; instead of taking the ball to second base, the defense executes a rundown on Baker. Eventually the rundown succeeds and Baker is tagged out; meanwhile, Able has crossed the plate. Does the run count? ANSWER: No. Since Baker had not reached second base, the force was on him. So when he was put out, it constituted a force out for the third out, and the Golden Rule of Force Outs applies. The fact that Baker was tagged out, instead of being put out by a fielder touching second base, is immaterial.

  1. Bases loaded with Able at third, Baker at second, Charlie at first, none out. The batter hits a ground ball to third base. The third baseman fields it and touches the base to force out Baker,. Then he throws to first to retire the batter on a 5-3 double play, as Able crosses the plate. However, Charlie has turned his ankle on the way to second base and can't get up. The first baseman runs up the baseline and tags Charlie out for a triple play. Does Able's run count? ANSWER: Yes it does. When the batter was put out, it took the force off of Charlie, so his being put out was not a force out and the Golden Rule does not apply. Since Able crossed the plate before Charlie was tagged out, the run counts.

  2. Able is at second and Baker is at first, one out. The batter, bunting for a hit, lays one down along the first base line. Both runners go; the pitcher fields the ball, but his throw to first pops out of the first baseman's glove and rolls towards second. The batter, seeing this, rounds first and heads towards second. Able reaches third and starts towards the plate, but the second baseman makes an adroit pick of the loose ball and throws to the plate. Able retreats towards third, but Baker, seeing the batter headed towards second, continues to run, and both runners wind up on third base. The catcher throws to the base and the third baseman tags both runners. What about it? ANSWER: The force came off of Able as soon as he crossed third; the batter's attempt to advance to second did not put additional force on either Baker or Able. Since Able was the lead runner, he has priority at third base and he is safe. Baker is out.

  3. Bases are loaded with Able at third, Baker at second, and Charlie at first, two out. The batter draws a walk. As soon as he starts for first base, the catcher, who is still holding the ball, starts arguing with the umpire. Observing this, Baker decides to try a deke: he sprints around third, and continues until he has caught up to Able, who is trotting to the plate. Baker then slows down and trots right behind Able. Just before they reach the plate, the catcher figures it out; he runs up the line and tags both runners. What about it? ANSWER: This one's an oddball. First of all, Baker has gone past third, which was the base he was forced to, so he is at liability to be put out. So when the catcher tagged him, that constituted the third out. However, a comment in the case notes under rule 7.04(b) states that when a runner is entitled to advance to home and score a run without liability to be put out, his run will be counted even if the third out is made before he reaches the plate. So when Able crosses the plate, he scores a run even though the third out has already been made. This is the only situation I know of where a run can be scored after the third out.

  4. Here’s an actual play from a Braves-Reds game on September 22, 1954. The Reds, trailing 3-1, had Gus Bell on second and Wally Post on first, with one out, in the top of the 9th. Bob Boroski, at the plate, swung at a strike-three wild pitch, and then he took off for first, apparently not realizing that he was already out because of first base being occupied with less than two out. Braves catcher Dal Crandall retrieved the ball and threw to Eddie Mathews at third, but the throw was too late to get Bell. Mathews then saw Boroski running and threw to first, not realizing that Boroski was already out. The throw hit Boroski and rolled into right field, allowing Bell and Post to score and tying the game. The umpires ruled that Bell was out because of Boroski drawing a throw, ending the game. Did they rule correctly? ANSWER: No. The correct ruling would have been to call the play dead at the time Mathews made the throw. The Reds protested the game; the protest was upheld, and the game was resumed on September 24 with Bell at third and Post at first. Both wound up scoring, but the Braves won it 4-3 on a walk-off single from George Metkovich in the bottom of the 9th.

This FanPost does not express the views or opinions of Battery Power.