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"The Worst Baserunning in the History of Baseball"
2003-05-28 23:31
by Mike Carminati

That was Jon Miller's hilarious call on the Ruben Rivera baserunning brain freeze from yesterday's Giants-D'Backs game, which I finally saw on Baseball Tonight tonight.

If you are not familiar with the play, I'll set the mood: Ruben Rivera pinch-ran for Andres Galarraga at first with one out in the ninth inning of a 2-2 ballgame. Galarraga himself had reached on an error by Arizona's shortstop, Tony Womack. Marquis Grissom was the next batter and he sent a high fly ball to right that David Dellucci misjudged for another error. Thinking the ball would be caught, Rivera was returning from beyond second base to first when the ball bounced. He headed back toward second, but took a Grete Waitz-like shortcut across the infield grass toward third instead. About three yards past second base, he realized his mistake (reportedly fans were gesticulating for him to return to second) and doubled back to second. And then he mysteriously tried to proceed to third. Cut-off man Junior Spivey at this point had relayed the ball to third. Even though he had plenty of time to get the chicken-with-his-head-cut-off baserunner, Spivey's throw went through Alex Cintron for the third error of the inning. Seeing the ball loose, the ever-creative Rivera headed home. Unfortunately, the ball caromed back onto the field and Womack threw him out by a good 10 feet.

Then Jose and Miguel Agilar ran into each other on a ground ball up the middle on the next play (That's a Bad News Bears reference, by the way). The Giants ended up winning the game, but Rivera had not looked that bad since he stole Derek Jeter's glove.

If you are curious as to why Rivera was not automatically out for running outside the baselines and cutting across the infield, the reason is that the rule says that he's only out if he's avoiding a tag. The only thing Rivera was avoiding was baserunning logic. Here's the rule:

Any runner is out when (a) (1) He runs more than three feet away from a direct line between bases to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball

No tag, no out.

So why isn't he out for passing second and then doubling back? You are allowed to touch 'em all as long as you retrace your steps on the way back:

In advancing, a runner shall touch first, second, third and home base in order. If forced to return, he shall retouch all bases in reverse order, unless the ball is dead under any provision of Rule 5.09. In such cases, the runner may go directly to his original base.

If Rivera had not touched second on returning to first, the D'Backs could have appealed at second and he would have been out. The only way that Rivera's baserunning makes any sense is that he thought he had not re-touched first and, therefore, could bypass second altogether. It didn't look that way in the replay and besides it does not mean that he can cut accross the infield to get to third anyway.

This one, in my opinion, is a close rival to the botched infield fly play by the Expos also at Pac Bell earlier this year. That one gets the slight age as three Expos misunderstood the infield fly rule on the play as opposed to one bench player getting turned around on the bases. However, the number of mistakes and duration of the play, a good 20 seconds, do weigh in Rivera's favor (or disfavor).

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