A time play (not timing play) is a situation where a third out (but not a force out) is made on the bases during the same play in which another runner crosses home plate. If the runner touches home plate before the third out is made on the bases, then the run scores. If the third out is made before the runner touches home, then the run does not score.
Example: You have a runner on first (R1) with two outs. The batter-runner (BR) hits a beautiful line drive in the gap in right-center that goes all the way to the fence. The BR is thinking double. At the same time, R1 is approaching third and the base coach is sending him home. But the center fielder gets a carom off the fence and makes an awesome throw to second base just as BR slides in. Base umpire calls him out at second. At just this moment, R1 is crossing the plate.
Well, that plate umpire had better be paying attention because he's got a time play on his hands. He has to see the out at second (not the base umpire's signal of an out, but the actual event), and he has to also see the touch of home plate. Then he has to make a call. We discuss the mechanic for making the time play call a little farther down.
This is pretty simple. The hard part is being alert to the imminence of a time play and for the plate umpire to position himself so that he can see both the out on the bases and the runner crossing the plate.
The situation is similar to an infield fly, where the umpires exchange signals when they're in the infield fly situation simply to prepare mentally for the possibility of the occurrence. Similarly, with two outs and one or more runners in scoring position, the plate umpire should signal his partner(s) two fingers tapping an imaginary wrist watch on the left wrist.
The only flaw in the time play signal is that you can find yourself with a time play with just one out (or none, for that matter). Both are uncommon, but they can happen. So, again, the lesson here is being alert.
Mechanic for calling a time play
When a time play occurs, and particularly if the play at he plate and the play on the bases are very close, it is very important that the plate umpire verbalize the outcome of the play (either the run scores or it does not). The plate umpire must indicate to the scorekeeper (or whomever is keeping the book):
- If the run counts, point to home plate and announce (loudly) "The run scores." Turn toward the scorekeeper and repeat, "Score the run."
- If on the other hand the run does not count, cross your arms (similar to a safe sign) across home plate and announce "No score." Turn toward the scorekeeper and repeat, "Do NOT score the run."
Failing to announce the outcome of a time play can lead to big problems, particularly if one bench assumes one outcome while the other team assumes the opposite. Two innings later, when everyone discovers that their game scores are not in sync, you're going to have the argument of your life.