Yesterday's Braves-Astros game ended in a typical fashion with the Astros winning again at home for the 19 straight time. However, the start was anything but typical.
The Braves starter John Thomson had to leave after four pitches because of a strained oblique muscle. One has to wonder why Thomson started if he was ailing that badly. Anyway, he was replaced by Paul Byrd, who ended up taking the loss after surrendering four runs and seven hits in 4-1/3 innings.
Thomson exited after one out, a double to Carlos Beltran, and two balls to Jeff Bagwell. Byrd battled Bagwell to a full count, but he finally walked. The base on balls was charged to Thomson under this combination of rules:
BASES ON BALLS
(a) A base on balls shall be scored whenever a batter is awarded first base because of four balls having been pitched outside the strike zone, but when the fourth such ball touches the batter it shall be scored as a "hit batter." (See 10.18 (h) for procedure when more than one pitcher is involved in giving a base on balls…
(h) A relief pitcher shall not be held accountable when the first batter to whom he pitches reaches first base on four called balls if such batter has a decided advantage in the ball and strike count when pitchers are changed. (1) If, when pitchers are changed, the count is 2 balls, no strike, 2 balls, 1 strike, 3 balls, no strike, 3 balls, 1 strike, 3 balls, 2 strikes, and the batter gets a base on balls, charge that batter and the base on balls to the preceding pitcher, not to the relief pitcher. (2) Any other action by such batter, such as reaching base on a hit, an error, a fielder's choice, a force out, or being touched by a pitched ball, shall cause such a batter to be charged to the relief pitcher.
So when a starting pitcher leaves a game, he may not know whether he will be charged with a decision, a run, an earned run, and in this case a walk. Thomson was credited with three batters faced in a third of an inning, and Byrd 22 in 4-1/3. If Bagwell had scored, it would have been charged to Thomson even though he was not on base when Thomson left the game. Had Byrd given up a hit to Bagwell, Thomson would only have been charged with even facing Bagwell.
Thomson's quick exit and the Bagwell BB were odd enough, but it then there was a play on the next batter that was odder still. With Bagwell at first and Beltran at second, Lance Berkman hit a bullet towards Marcus Giles, the second baseman. With the runners going it looked like they would have to settle for Berkman at first and the Astros would have second and third with two outs. However, as Bagwell scurried to second the ball came right at him very quickly. Bagwell is no longer at his most agile and the ball hit him on the trailing foot even though he tried to evade it.
Bagwell was out, the ball was dead, and the Astros had runners at second and third. Here is the rule involved:
Any runner is out when…(f) He is touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball has touched or passed an infielder. The ball is dead and no runner may score, nor runners advance, except runners forced to advance.
OK, so that says that Bagwell is out, the ball is dead, and Beltran cannot advance. That leaves Berkman. Why is he allowed to advance to first? Here's the reason:
A batter has legally completed his time at bat when he is put out or becomes a runner.
The batter becomes a runner when (a) He hits a fair ball;
By 6.04, since Berkman was not out, he could only have completed his time at bat if he had become a runner. But had he? Couldn't Bagwell have been out, the runner stayed at second, and Berkman continue with his at-bat? But what would the call be for the ball that hit Bagwell, a strike?
Well, 6.09 says that since he had hit a fair ball, he became a runner and therefore, his at-bat was over. By 7.08 above no runners may advance except those "forced to advance". Berkman was a runner, he couldn’t be put out since the ball was dead when it hit Bagwell. Even if it caromed directly to Giles and he could easily throw Berkman out, it would all be a moot point. Since Berkman was a runner, he had to be allowed to advance to first given that he was forced to advance.
But how is it scored? Bagwell is out and therefore, Berkman gets a hitless at-bat, but he gets credited with the putout? Well, there's an answer for that, too:
(b) Other automatic putouts shall be credited as follows (Credit no assists on these plays except as specified): (2) When a runner is called out for being touched by a fair ball (including an Infield Fly), credit the putout to the fielder nearest the ball;
So Giles gets the putout unassisted. Then Jeff Kent struck out to end the inning.