Was Michael Bourn Out?

If you missed last night’s game, the Phillies lost 3-2 to the Houston Astros in large part due to a controversial call made in the top of the eighth inning. With a 2-1 lead, Ryan Madson was on the mound. Jason Michaels led off with a single. Michael Bourn, as he so often does, put a bunt down the first base line. Ryan Howard fielded the ball and instead of flipping to Chase Utley for the force out, Howard chose to dive and tag Bourn, but he missed. In an effort to evade the tag, Bourn may have stepped out of the baseline. The umpire ruled that Howard didn’t tag Bourn and that Bourn hadn’t gone far enough out of the baseline, so the Astros had runners on first and second with no outs. Michaels and Bourn eventually scored the tying and go-ahead runs on a weakly-hit Carlos Lee single.

In Major League Baseball’s official rules, rule 7.08 states:

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(a) (1) He runs more than three feet away from his baseline to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s baseline is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely.

Here’s a .gif of the play:

And here’s a few still shots (click to enlarge):

If my understanding of MLB’s definition of a baseline is correct, I don’t think Bourn stepped out of the baseline. However, considering where he started (just to the right of the chalk) and where he ended up (on the grass), it’s certainly a debatable point as it seems like Bourn went excessively out of his way to avoid the tag. Perhaps in the off-season, MLB can provide better clarity on this rule. Establishing the baseline “when the tag attempt occurs” could mean the baseline is from the front of the dugout to first base. The simple way to do it is to define the baseline as a straight line from one base to the next, and the runner gets three feet of wiggle room. I think that’s the way most people interpret the rule anyway.

What do you think? Was Bourn out or safe?

UPDATE: As mentioned in the comments and in Matt Gelb’s article, Greg Gibson was the first base umpire in both last night’s game and on June 24 when the Phillies played the Cleveland Indians. During that game, Shane Victorino was called out for running outside of the baseline on a similar play.

Gelb wrote, “Gibson told [Victorino] Carmona had established the tag attempt and Victorino was more than three feet away from it.”

I’m not sure I buy that.