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In baseball, an uncaught third strike (sometimes inaccurately referred to as a dropped third strike) occurs when the catcher fails to cleanly catch a pitch for the third strike. A pitch is considered uncaught if the ball touches the ground before being caught, or if the ball is dropped after being grasped (see also catch). The specific rules concerning the uncaught third strike are addressed in Rules 6.05 and 6.09 of the Official Baseball Rules,[1] under which Major League Baseball is played.

On an uncaught third strike with no runner on first base (or with two outs, regardless of whether there is a runner on first), the batter immediately becomes a runner. The strike is called, but the umpire does not call the batter out. The umpire may also actively signal that there is "no catch" of the pitch. The batter may then attempt to reach first base, and must be tagged or thrown out.

One intent of this rule is to ensure that a defensive player fields the ball cleanly in order for that team to record an out. It was thought that it is not enough that the offensive player is unsuccessful in order for an out to be made; a defensive player must be successful as well.

Regardless of the outcome of an uncaught third strike, the pitcher is statistically credited with a strikeout. Because of the uncaught third strike rule, it is possible for a pitcher to register more than three strikeouts in an inning, a feat which has been accomplished in Major League Baseball 53 times since 1901.[2] At one point in history, nearly forty years passed before this feat was repeated (1916-1956).

Note that if, at the time of the strike three pitch, first base is occupied with fewer than two outs, the batter is automatically out and cannot become a runner. This is to prevent the defense from deliberately dropping a third strike pitch and getting a double or triple play as a result, because of the possible force play at second or third base in this situation.

It should also be noted that the uncaught third strike rule is not used in Little League Baseball; in Little League baseball, a batter is out on strike three even if the catcher fails to legally catch the third strike. However, many other youth baseball leagues, such as the USSSA, do follow the rule.

Recent changes

Following a controversial play involving this rule in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series, the application of the rule was changed when a comment was added in 2006 to Rule 6.09(b):[3]

Rule 6.09(b) Comment: A batter who does not realize his situation on a third strike not caught, and who is not in the process of running to first base, shall be declared out once he leaves the dirt circle surrounding home plate."[4]

This comment represents the official interpretation of the application of the rule. Previous to this rule change, a batter was able to try for first at any time before entering the dugout.

References

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