1.) For a strikeout, the catcher must actually hang on to the ball in his mitt. If he drops it, or never has it in the first place, the runner can run to first and the catcher must tag or throw him out. 2.) The ball isn't out of play if he catches it. Catch -> Out. That simple. Mr Know-it-all [GRIN]. (I don't answer enough of these darn things, heheheh.) Basically, Glenn, a player must have posession of the ball for an out to be recorded. On every play, the ball is caught by the defensive team (pop out, line out, tag). The same is true for a strike out. The catcher must have possession of the ball to record the out. In the case of a passed ball or wild pitch, he does not therefore, no out and the runner may attempt to advance to first. the ball is only out of play if you can't catch it or use it to make a play, therefore it is called out of play when fouled into the crowd/anywhere the player cant get to it. Not only can the batter advance to first base if the catcher does not catch the ball, he can attempt to advance if the third strike skips in the dirt and is CAUGHT by the catcher; the catcher must catch the third strike cleanly to record the strike-out. In regard to the foul ball/out-of-play ball, they are 2 different things; a foul ball is, in fact, in play and the out can be made if caught on the fly (and runners on base can tag up and advance at their own peril). An out-of-play ball is a not-playable ball. Out-of-play boundaries are agreed upon prior to the start of the game by the umpires and coaches of both teams.
This play is referred to as "redeye". If a batter misses (or does not swing) at the 3rd strike, and the catcher drops it, the runner must run to first before the catcher throws the dropped pitch to first. If the runner is beaten by the throw, it is simply a strikeout in the books. If the runner beats out the throw, it still goes as a strikeout, but his advance to first will be listed as an error by either the pitcher or the catcher (depending on how bad the pitch was, and the reason it was not caught). In Little League (60 foot basepaths) batter is out on strike three no matter what the catcher does.
If the ball touches the ground even before the catcher catches it the batter/runner may attempt to advance to first if there are less than 2 out and first is not occupied or if there are 2 out and first is occupied. The catcher does not have to catch the ball on a third a strike for it the be considered a strike out. This includes a ball which bounces to the catcher because the strike zone is over the plate not where it is caught.
Anytime the ball hits the dirt on a 3rd strike it is considered a "dropped 3rd strike", even if it is executed as the pitcher and catcher wanted (ie. curveball in the dirt). On a dropped 3rd strike, the batter can try and advance by running to 1st base, as with any runner, the defensive team will need to tag the batter out or throw to 1st base. If the runner walks to the dugout, the umpire can call him outon his disgression. The dropped 3rd strike rule does not apply if there is a runner on 1st base with less then 2 outs. If there are 2 outs, all runners required to run would be forced to advance and be safe for this rule to apply
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