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The Objectives of Baseball and the Line Score

A good first start for talking about how to play or watch a game is to begin with speaking of how you win said game. The objective of the game of baseball is deceptively simple:

At the end of nine innings, the team that has scored more runs is the winner.

This is a simple concept for those who have followed baseball for years, but for someone new to the game, I have just introduced three new concepts in that one sentence. We’ll break things down even more over time, but to help you in your understanding of how a game is won, the best place to start is to also teach you how to read the line score.

An Example Line Score and How to Read It

The best example is a real one. Here’s the completed line score as seen on from a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, played in St. Louis:

A few notes about how the line score is composed:

  • The home team (the team in whose city the game is played) is always at the bottom half of the line score. This is not merely cosmetic; the home team is granted an advantage in the game by batting last in each inning.
  • At the right end of the line score is the running total for the three basic stats for each team in the game. These are:
    • Runs, which are the only scoring tally in baseball and were discussed in the game objective above. A run is scored when a batter successfully reaches each of the four bases in succession and touches home plate,
    • Hits, which are recorded when a batter strikes the ball with his bat and successfully reaches base before being put out, and
    • Errors, which are officially recorded defensive mistakes where an out should have been made with what is termed “ordinary effort” but the defensive player did not succeed.
  • Some line scores will include a running total labeled LOB, which indicates runners who were left on base (or “stranded”) by reaching base but not touching home plate before the end of their team’s offensive half of an inning.
  • The remainder of the line score is broken into a grid that shows the number of runs scored in each half-inning. The game starts at the top of the first inning and proceeds from there.
  • In this line score, you can see that St. Louis won the game, with the final score being six to one.

Innings

A game of baseball is broken into nine innings. Each inning has a top and a bottom, according to the place in the line score. I’ll put the line score back up so you can see that again:

In the top half of each inning, the visiting team plays offense and the home team plays defense. This continues until the defense records three outs, which is called retiring the side.

After the third out, the teams switch sides and play the bottom half of the inning, likewise until three outs are recorded. The home team plays offense in the bottom half of all innings to give them an advantage, especially in later innings.

As an example, look at the fifth inning in this line score.

In the top of the fifth, the Cubs scored one run before their three outs, and the Cardinals scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth before their three outs.

(We’ll talk more about how outs work later.)

Note that there’s no clock in baseball of any kind. A team is permitted to continue their half of a given inning until three of their players are put out. There’s no limit to the number of batters who come up in a half-inning, and no rule placing a maximum on the number of runs that can be scored.

Two things to note about innings and how they work:

  • If a game is tied at the end of the ninth inning, additional innings are added to the end of the game until there is a winner. Both halves of the inning are always played to give the home team the chance to answer any leads by the visiting team. This is called extra innings.
  • If the home team has more runs after the top of the ninth inning, the bottom half of the ninth inning is not played. You can see this in the box score above, being marked with an “X”. Similarly, if the home team scores to take the lead at any point in the bottom of the ninth inning or in the bottom of any extra inning, the game immediately ends when that run scores (since there is no point in continuing play).

The Basics

What you’ve read here is the minimum necessary to understand how the game is scored and how your team wins the game. In future posts, I’ll cover more of the concepts listed here, such as how an out is made, how runs are scored, and how teams play offense and defense.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment. I’ll be happy to answer them for you.

25 Comments

  1. Yay! I’ve been waiting for these posts ever since you teased it a few weeks ago. That’s a pretty nice summary so far.

    How many posts until you dig into the inner workings of sabermetrics? :-)

  2. I don’t think I have ever watched a game of baseball. It just isn’t played much here. Loved the write up though!

  3. Nice. You could rewrite the Wikipedia article! I don’t see why people complain that the Cubs lost; you were giving a typical example, right? ;)

  4. Baseball games are all about people watching and stuffing my face with game food. Nothing more, nothing less. ;)

  5. Very well done. What ever you write about baseball in the future don’t you dare to use an example where the Yankees lose please. LOL

  6. There is no clock in Baseball. Good. Could you imagine the changes that would ensue to the stats? And then what? A homerun derby after a regulation time tie? Above all else Baseball makes sense. The game ends when it is over. You’ve definitely said more than you said. Great post.

  7. I remember going to Dodger games as a boy and looking at the scoreboard with the Union 76 sign on top. I would watch the scoreboard more than the game because I couldn’t tell balls and strikes from my seat. I came pretty close to missing a foul ball because I was watching the scoreboard, once. Once.

    • We’re trying not to talk about that right now. Bummer for him that it happened in a free agency year.

  8. Thanks! Well done! I just took some refugee kids from Nepal to a Double A baseball game. I found myself a little challenged trying to explain the game to them—and I am a former baseball player! Thanks for a great job!

    • The next time you take those or any children to the game, you can start with Mr. Markel and continue with Prof. Stengel: Start ’round the infield: “Them are the bases.” Then, the foul lines: “Do you see them white lines? They are there to hit the ball on. And them fellas in the middle are called fielders.” And then, pointing to the plate, you can conclude with Prof. Giamatti: “Much as you travel and far as you go, out to the green frontier, the purpose is to get home.”

  9. I loved baseball when I was a kid and even collected baseball cards (still have them, in fact). Now, however, I think the only reason I go to baseball games is to drink beer and eat nachos. Where did I go wrong?? ;)

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    • There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The ballpark (especially here in St. Louis) is a great place to just go and spend the evening. You can even get all-inclusive seats here at Busch (food and drink/beer included) for about as much as you might spend on a good night at a bar – and you get a baseball game with your ticket.

      • Yeah, I’d love me some all-inclusive seats…I’d be stuffing my face the entire game. Honestly, I think that’s the best part of going to a baseball game – eating whatever you want and not caring if you spill some on the ground.

        I love going to games, but I have to confess…I haven’t watched a baseball game on TV since 1993. That was the year that Toronto won the World Series and since then, it’s just kinda been all downhill for us…lol.

  10. Awesome work! You probably should have thrown in the concept of a rain shortned game though.

    • I would have, but that concept alone is somewhat confusing. Weather effects on a game are an interesting thing.

  11. Baseball looks like such an easy game, but really it’s so confusing. I still don’t know what an RBI is.

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