How Baseball Works

By: Kevin Bonsor & Joe Martin

Baseball Offense

Braves outfielder Andruw Jones rounds third base.
Photo courtesy Atlanta Braves

On the offensive side of the game, there are two types of players -- the hitter and the base runner. Once the hitter makes contact with the ball and gets a hit, he becomes a base runner and must safely reach each base in succession. The ultimate goal of each offensive player is to make his way around the bases and cross home plate, thereby scoring a run.

When a hitter is at the plate, he is considered to be at bat. During an at bat, the pitcher of the opposing team throws the ball to the catcher, and the hitter tries to hit the ball with the bat before it reaches the catcher. Each throw is called a pitch. A pitch can be either a ball or a strike. (The umpire is the judge of whether a pitch is a ball or a strike.)


A ball is a pitch that is out of the strike zone, which is an imaginary rectangular box that typically runs the width of the plate and from the hitter's chest to his knees. A strike is a ball that goes through the strike zone and is not hit by the hitter. A strike can be a ball outside of the strike zone if the hitter swings and misses. If a player hits a ball that goes into foul territory and is not caught by a fielder before it touches the ground, it is also counted as a strike -- except when the batter already has two strikes. A batter with two strikes can hit the ball into foul territory indefinitely without striking out. However, a ball caught in foul territory is scored an out.

During an at bat, a hitter may do one of several actions, including:

  • Walk - When the pitcher throws four balls before throwing three strikes, the hitter gets a free base.
  • Hit by pitch - A hitter that is struck with a pitch is awarded first base.
  • Single - The hitter hits the ball into play far enough to get to first base.
  • Double - The hitter hits the ball into play far enough to get to second base.
  • Triple - The hitter hits the ball into play far enough to get to third base.
  • Home run - The hitter hits the ball over the outfield wall between the foul poles and is awarded a free trip around the bases, or the hitter hits the ball far enough that he or she has time to run all the bases. The hitter must run around the bases and touch home plate for the home run to count.
  • Fielder's choice - A hitter makes contact with the ball, but only reaches base because a fielder chose to throw out another runner.
  • Error - A hitter makes contact with the ball and only reaches base because a fielder misplays the ball.

A runner must go around the bases in order, starting with first base. He then goes to second, third, and finally home. A base runner can advance in one of several ways. He can be advanced by another player's hit or by a hitter being walked, or he can steal a base. To steal a base, the runner starts running from one base to another before the at-bat player gets a hit or a walk, and makes it to the base without getting tagged out. If a runner veers outside of the base path, the umpire calls him out. The umpire decides how far outside the base path is too far.

At the end of all the scheduled innings, the team that has scored the most runs is declared the winner. If the home team is ahead after the top of that inning, the home team wins the game and does not have to complete the inning. However, if the teams are tied after nine innings, they continue to play until one team has more runs than the other. Keep in mind that the home team always has the chance to bat last.