The Red Sox Just Benefited from Baseball’s Tuck Rule: Rule 5.05(a)(8), The Inadvertent Ground Rule Double

Back in Week 5 of the 2001 NFL season, the Patriots entered the week with a 1-3 record. They fell behind and found themselves down by 10 points in the 4th quarter with a young, unproven quarterback at the helm before mounting a comeback and winning. Yesterday, the Patriots entered Week 5 of their season with a 1-3 record. They fell behind and found themselves down 13 points in the second half (seven in the 4th quarter) with a young, unproven quarterback at the helm before mounting a comeback and winning.

We all know how the season finished; with the Patriots winning their first Super Bowl. However, the most important play of the season was when the Patriots benefited from the little-known Tuck Rule. Yesterday, the Red Sox experienced Baseball’s Tuck Rule: Rule 5.05(a)(8), The inadvertent Ground Rule Double… and it could very well lead to a Red Sox World Series title.

Most people get two things wrong when discussing the NFL’s Tuck Rule as it existed in 2001: (1) The rule was correctly applied and (2) the Patriots (and referee Walt Coleman) knew it was a tuck rule scenario immediately because it happened to them earlier in the season.

Yes, while most people watching and listening to that fateful play on the snowy night of January 19, 2002, did not know the rule, the Patriots did for all the worst reasons. Coincidentally, the very first enforcement of the two-year-old Tuck Rule was in the very same game where Mo Lewis knocked out Drew Bledsoe. The Patriots knew the rule, Bill Belichick knew the rule, and the Patriots won a Super Bowl because a funky rule was applied correctly.

That is Football… This is Baseball… So What is Baseball’s Tuck Rule?

Ok. Great. Thanks for the NFL history lesson. But what in the hell does a football play from 2002 have to do with a play in the 2021 ALDS? Ya know, a baseball series featuring the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox? Well, the Red Sox just benefited from baseball’s Tuck Rule: Rule 5.05(a)(8), the Inadvertent Ground Rule Double.

In the top of the 13th inning in last night’s Game 3 between the Rays and the Red Sox from Fenway Park, the Red Sox got the ultimate bounce in the ultimate home park advantage moment. It is hard enough to beat the Red Sox at Fenway. It is hard enough to beat the Red Sox in the postseason when Fenway is rocking. But it is damn near impossible to beat the Red Sox in the postseason at Fenway when the park itself decides to help out the home team… and that is exactly what Fenway did.

The Ghosts of Fenway Pull for the Red Sox

In almost every park in the world, that ball is a regular double (or triple), and the runner scores. It would hit the wall, bounce off Hunter Renfroe, and then hit the wall again with the runner on first scoring… easily. But the right-field wall is so short it ramped up off Renfroe and then back over the wall… for a wonky Ground Rule Double, sending Yandy Diaz back to third and taking the run off the board. The Rays could not believe they were the victims of such a terrible, ironclad rule. Specifically, Rule 5.05(a)(8):

Rule 5.05(a)(8) The Inadvertent Ground Rule Double

Rule 5.05(a)(8) The Inadvertent Ground Rule Double

This is baseball’s Tuck Rule, complete with a hero-turned-goat-turned hero. While Nick Pivetta thought he was doing his best postseason Nathan Eovaldi, he was actually channeling Tom Brady. The irony of all ironies is that the Red Sox’s woeful defense actually helped them in this case. A player at his own park playing the carom so poorly he botches it out of the field of play? That is awful defense. The type of defense where this makes sense.

But it is a perfect microcosm of the type of defense Red Sox backers worried would doom them. But instead of Renfroe’s bad play sending the Red Sox postseason chances into the depth of hell, baseball’s Tuck Rule plucked the Red Sox from their grave and substituted the Rays in their place.

Why Didn’t Kevin Cash Complain More? He Knew the Rule… From Experience

However, just like the Patriots in the Divisional Round game against the Raiders, the Rays should have known Baseball’s Tuck Rule because they–and skipper Kevin Cash–already experienced it. Yup. This is not the first time the Rays saw this play. In fact, something very similar happened in a Rays’ game in 2019. And that game also featured two AL East teams.

So, just like the Patriots who sat on one side of a bizarrely applied rule before finding themselves on the other end of the table, so too did the Rays. The only difference between the two situations is that while the Patriots were victims of the rule in the regular season before finding themselves the beneficiaries in the postseason, the Rays were the beneficiaries in the regular season before finding themselves the victims in the postseason.

Kevin Cash knew it. That is why he did not argue the call for long. He knew there was nothing he could do. You might argue with the rule. You might think the rule is stupid, archaic, and irrational, but the rule was correctly applied in 2019… and baseball’s Tuck Rule was correctly applied in 2021 as well.

Sure. Anti-New England sports fans are going to complain that New England teams always get the benefit of the call and/or rulebook come the postseason. Given the Tuck Rule and Rule 5.05(a)(8), it is a solid complaint. But in situations like these, arguing against the rulebook is moot and a simple adage can be applied; don’t hate the player, hate the game. Or hate the rulebook. And sure, fine, New England sports as well… especially when they keep winning.