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In baseball, baserunning is the act of running around the bases performed by members of the team at bat.
In general, baserunning is a tactical part of the game with the goal of eventually reaching home to score a run. In fact, the goal of batting is generally to produce baserunners, or help move baserunners along. Runners on second or third base are considered to be in scoring position since a normal hit, even a single, will often score them. Part of the goal of a runner and a batter is to get the runner into scoring position.
Of course, for any baserunners to exist, a batter must initially become one. This happens when,
- he hits a fair ball,
- a third strike is not caught or is dropped by the catcher, providing first base is unoccupied, or there are two outs, (fairly uncommon)
- he receives a base on balls,
- he is hit by a pitch, or
- the catcher or any fielder interferes with him.
A runner who is touching a base which he is entitled to occupy may not be tagged out. Runners may attempt to advance from base to base on any fair ball that touches the ground. When a ball is hit in the air, a fly ball, and caught by the defending team, runners must return and touch the base they occupy— called tagging up—after the ball is legally caught. Once they do this, they may attempt to advance at their own risk. On a ball that touches the ground in fair territory, if there is a force, runners are required to run.
Baserunners may attempt to advance at any time while the ball is alive, even before or while the pitcher is throwing a pitch. The catcher—or pitcher, in lieu of delivering the pitch—often tries to prevent this by throwing the ball to one of the infielders in order to tag the runner. This pick-off attempt is usually unsuccessful in tagging out the runner but is effective in keeping the runner closer to the base. If the runner is tagged out while diving back to the base, it is called a pickoff. If the runner attempts to advance to the next base but is tagged out before reaching it safely, he is caught stealing. A successful attempt by the runner is called a stolen base. If a pitch gets away from the catcher, runners may also try to advance. This may be a wild pitch, if the pitcher is held responsible for the ball getting away, or a passed ball if the catcher is deemed to be at fault. Sometimes the defending team will ignore a runner who is trying to steal a base; in this case a runner is not credited with a steal, and the base is attributed to defensive indifference.
The standard dimensions of a baseball field, with 90 feet (27.4 m) between bases, generate many close baserunning plays. On one hand, an infielder who cleanly fields a ball hit on the ground, then throws it quickly and accurately, will usually get the ball to a base before the runner reaches it. However, any hesitation or mistake on the part of the fielder may allow the runner to reach the base safely. Teams that are familiar with their opposition may attempt to run when a certain player has the ball. For example, on a deep fly ball to center field with a man on second base, if the center fielder is known to have a weak arm, the runner on second base may attempt to tag up to get to third, even though that is a risky play.
Baserunning and hitting are often combined to produce better results. Smart, quick base running is a key element in the squeeze play. The hit and run, and similar plays involve baserunning. When the count is full and there are two outs, runners with a force behind them will always run as if they were stealing, since they cannot be caught stealing: a strike is the third out and a walk entitles him to the next base. Also, good runners will often try get extra bases when a play is being made at a different base. For example, when there is someone at second and a player hits a shallow single, if there is a play at home plate, the runner who hit the single might try to get to second.
Sometimes runners can be helpful even after they are out. The most common way to do this is during a potential double play. If a double play has begun, and the runner running to second knows he will be forced out, he will often try to aid the runner running to first base by performing a take-out slide, to stop the player with the ball from throwing to first. Some versions of such a slide could be considered offensive interference in amateur competition, but this maneuver is traditionally tolerated in professional baseball.
Some tag plays are so close that the slide performed by the runner affects the outcome. The right type of slide, with the right location might allow the runner to be safe, while a conventional slide might allow the defending player to lay down the tag in time.
Baserunners that are left on base when an inning ends due to three out are said to have been "stranded."