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Oakland A’s score on unusual play against Royals

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An RBI popout to the third baseman?

Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Baseball has a way of showing you something you’ve never seen before. Your team plays 162 games, each made up of dozens of plays and hundreds of pitches and countless moments in between, resulting in a daily flood of new data points. There’s always some new and different way that a ball can hop, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, you find out you haven’t.

Oakland A’s fans were treated to one of these novelties on Thursday, and it helped them win a game. The short version is that they scored on a foulout that didn’t even make it past the infield. Here’s how it happened.

The A’s were engaged in a wild battle with the Kansas City Royals, which had seen a couple lead changes, five crooked numbers on the scoreboard, and ultimately 25 hits combined. Oakland held an 8-7 advantage entering the top of the 9th inning, but that lead hardly seemed safe with the way the afternoon had been going. Fortunately, they put together a rally, with singles by Seth Brown and Jurickson Profar and then a sac bunt by Chad Pinder to move them over.

With runners on second and third and one out, Corban Joseph came to the plate, needing only a flyball or maybe a routine grounder to bring home a valuable insurance run. His top skill is not striking out, so despite being the eighth batter in the order he was actually an ideal candidate to at least make contact here. All he had to do was not pop it up in the infield.

On the first pitch, he popped it up in the infield.

Well, not exactly. The ball flew into foul territory, at least offering the chance that it might go out of play and land safely for a souvenir and a relatively harmless Strike 1. But alas, Royals third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert had just enough room, sidling up to the edge of the A’s dugout and reaching in to make an impressive catch. Joseph was out, and he hadn’t hit it far enough to score Brown from third.

But wait, the play wasn’t quite over. Cuthbert had reached so far into the dugout to grab the ball that his momentum took him the rest of the way in, and he hopped down to the bottom of the stairs. That action meant he’d stepped out of play, which allowed the runners to automatically advance a base. Brown trotted home from third, giving the A’s their extra run.

What’s more, that extra tally proved to be the difference in the game. The Royals scored one of their own in the bottom of the 9th, which would otherwise have tied things up. But since the A’s now led by two, they were able to absorb that final run and hold on for a 9-8 victory.

Here’s the rule in question, Rule 5.06(b)(3)(C):

Each runner, other than the batter, may without liability to be put out, advance one base when: ... A fielder, after catching a fly ball, steps or falls into any out-of-play area.

It comes with the following clarification 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.

It all makes perfect sense. You just rarely if ever see it actually happen, and especially not to score a run, much less a crucial game-changing run. It was even a first for Susan Slusser.

There was no argument from KC, although it came as a surprise to Cuthbert, via insider Martin Gallegos:

“I didn’t know about that rule. Every day you learn something in baseball.”

And that is the story of how Corban Joseph brought home a key run with a foul popup that couldn’t have gone more than 100 feet from the plate. He was credited with an RBI, but not a sac fly. And now there’s one less thing that A’s fans have never seen before.