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The Nationals’ hellish inning in Game 5 might have been helped by an umpiring mistake

I’m not an expert. Walk me through this.

MLB: NLDS-Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In the 666th inning the Nationals have played in the NLDS as a franchise — the inning never changes — they ran into a problem. Max Scherzer was cruising with two outs, and then he allowed an infield single. That’s fine, no problem, except then he allowed a bloop hit. That was less fine, but all he needed to do was not give up another hit, and then he gave up a double down the line.

Then there was an intentional walk to Jason Heyward because it’s 2010, and, look, you have more hair.

This brought up Javier Baez, who struck out. That should have been the end of the inning, but baseball’s silliest rule came into play: If a batter swings at a pitch that’s so crappy the catcher can’t catch it, he gets to scamper to first. The pitch got away from Matt Wieters, and not only did Baez make it safely, but Wieters borked the throw, allowing a run to score.

Except Baez’s backswing hit Wieters’ mask, and the replay was unambiguous. Wieters was yelling after the play, clearly upset because the bat hit his mask, and Jeff Long of Baseball Prospectus scoured the rulebook to find that the Nats’ catcher had a point.

To start, here’s the exact wording of baseball’s dumbest rule (PDF):

6.09 (b) The batter becomes a runner when ... The third strike called by the umpire is not caught, providing (1) first base is unoccupied, or (2) first base is occupied with two out

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.

That’s it. And it’s simple. And dumb. Still, them’s the rules, and we’re all used to it by now. But later in the rulebook, we have this, which is a comment on Rules 6.03(a)(3) and (4) and Rule 6.06(c) and (d):

If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.

So ... does that dead ball count when it comes to dropped third strikes? We don’t know! There’s nothing that ties this rule to the previous rule, nothing that explicitly suggests it supersedes the silly rule about dropped third strikes.

My gut feeling is that the later rule, describing a dead ball, should take precedent. Not only would it be ridiculous to add a “it’s a dead ball unless the batter swung wildly at a pitch nowhere near the zone and the catcher dropped it” comment to the rule, but it would reward a batter for swinging so wildly he missed the ball and hit the catcher with his backswing.

As is, this is all just speculative. The Cubs scored more runs, and there was an actual catcher’s interference call after this, and then there was a hit batter with the bases loaded, and I think there was a unicycle on the field, and the Nationals are probably going to lose.

But there’s a chance that the umpires missed this one. We’ll see what MLB has to say and if this is an issue at all.