Extra Innings: More Baseball Vocabulary
Note: I wrote Nine Innings in hopes of added appreciation for our national pastime, perhaps enticing a new lover or two. Despite all the baseball lore in the first nine innings, there are a number of baseball terms and plays I never got to. If you want to learn more about the game, Extra Innings is for you.
Balk: A pitcher must pitch with his/her foot on the “pitching rubber,” which is always 60’ 6” from Home Plate. If a runner is on base, a pitcher can try to “pick-off” a runner who is “leading-off,” i.e., taking a few steps towards the next base before the pitch is delivered. It is a “balk” if the pitcher steps in a different direction than towards Home Plate or the base being thrown to, and a “balk” if the pitcher throws to first, second or third base with his/her foot on the rubber; i.e., if you’re going to try a pick-off, step off the rubber first. If the umpire calls a balk, the runner(s) get to advance one base. I once saw a “walk-off balk.” [What is a “walk-off”? See 2nd Inning.] That’s the thing about baseball – how often you see something you never saw before.
Batting Average: For every 1,000 “At Bats,” it’s how many “Hits” you would average. Base Hit (aka a hit): Just hitting the ball doesn’t necessarily result in a hit. A “hit” is when you reach base safely after hitting the ball, as opposed to making an “out.” For example, suppose you got 2 hits in 7 at bats: Divide 20 by 7 and your average is .285. The last hitter to bat over .400 was Ted Williams in 1941. That’s another thing about baseball – a batter is considered highly successful even though he/she fails well over half the time.
Dropped Third Strike: A.J. Pierzynski was the White Sox catcher in 2005 when they won their first World Series since 1919. (It was 1919 when they earned the sobriquet “Black Sox” for throwing the Series to the underdog Cincinnati Red Legs for a share of the gambling proceeds.) A.J. was my kind of a ballplayer – always thinking, always hustling. The Sox were playing the Angels in Game Two of the American League Play-Offs, already down one game. In the bottom of the 9th A.J. was batting with two strikes and two outs, and the score tied. One more strike and the game would be in extra innings. The pitch came; A.J. swung and missed. “Strike Three” said the ump. But the ball might have bounced in the dirt before landing in the catcher’s glove, so A.J. started running to first. The “Dropped Third Strike Rule” requires a catcher to cleanly catch the ball before the batter is out. If it’s dropped or missed, or hits the dirt, and the batter can make it to first before the ball arrives, the batter is safe at first. “Always run it out ‘cos you never know,” is what us coaches tell our players.
Josh Paul, the Angels catcher, thought he had caught the ball cleanly, thought the inning was over, and rolled the ball towards the pitcher’s mound for the start of the next inning. But the Ump, Doug Eddings, never said “Batter Out,” and despite a torrid protest (resulting in Angels’ Manager, Mike Scosia getting “tossed” out of the game), A.J. was ruled safe at first. Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen then sent in a “pinch runner” for A.J. who promptly stole second. (A pinch runner or pinch batter is the manager putting in a replacement – in this case some one more fleet afoot – but the replaced player is out of that game for good.) Joe Crede then knocked in the winning run and the Sox were on their way to beating the Angels 3 games to 1 to advance to the World Series.
In a later game that same year, my hero A.J. made what I thought was even a smarter play: Again he was batting with two strikes. This time he saw that the pitch was going to be so wild the catcher would never be able to catch it, so he swung and struck-out on purpose and got safely to first base without even a throw – Wow! What a ballplayer.
Earned Run Average (ERA): For every nine innings, it’s how many earned runs you would give up on average. A run that scores because of a fielder’s error, i.e., missing a hit ball that should have been caught, is unearned. Reaching first base safely due to an error is not considered a “hit” for batting average purposes. You could have a runner on third base due to an error who then scores on a “hit” – that’s still an unearned run. To calculate, suppose you gave up 2 earned runs in 5 innings pitched: 2 over 5 = X over 9, or a 3.60 ERA. The best pitchers have ERAs between 2.00 and 3.00.
Fly Ball: A struck ball that is caught before the ball touches the ground. The opposite of a “Ground Ball.”
Infield: The area of the playing field with the base paths – as opposed to the “Outfield.”
Infield Fly Rule: In the early years (circa 1880s), a quick-thinking ballplayer combined the “tagging- up rule” [“Tagging-up” is described in Cheating – Bottom of the 1st] and the “infield force rule” to unfairly get two outs on one play. Infield Force: a runner already on base is “forced” to the next base on a grounder or a hit, but only if the base behind him/her is also occupied, or – if you are on first base – the batter is coming to occupy first, thus forcing you to second. With a fly ball it’s different because the batter is out when the ball is caught and so no one is forced to advance. The rule is only one occupant per base. This 1880s player, an infielder, dropped a fly ball on purpose, forcing the baserunners on second and first, who were tagging-up, to get a very late start on advancing to third and second respectively; made the throw to third before the runner arrived, got that force-out; and then the ball was relayed to second before that runner arrived: Two outs on one play! (Whereas if the fly had not been dropped on purpose, the result would be only one out.) The next day the infield fly rule was adopted: If the umpire determines a fly ball in the infield is catchable, the ump hollers “Infield Fly Rule,” the batter is automatically out, and the runners only advance at their own risk. Logic dictates that this rule only applies with less than 2 outs and with runners on first and second – or first, second and third. You see why?
Tomorrow: The Longest Game