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Baseball is a unique sport in which the game does not end until every out is made. There are many different ways to make those outs, so it is important to know exactly how to make them. One way to do so is to tag a runner trying to advance from one base to another.
To record an out, the fielder must tag the batter before he reaches second or third base. If there is a runner on first base and the batter hits a ground ball and the fielders get the ball to first base ahead of the batter, in order to get a double play, the fielders have to tag the runner running from first.
While this may seem to be one of baseball’s most basic rules, there are other situations to take into account when deciding if a runner must be tagged or not and how to apply the tag.
One of the first rules that anyone who is new to the game of baseball should learn is the force out. The idea of tagging runners who are trying to advance to the next base is typically well-known even outside of the baseball community, but the force out is a little more difficult to understand.
In baseball, only one player is allowed on each base at a time which means that a runner who is being trailed by another runner must attempt to advance to the next base on a ball in play. In this case, the defensive player may opt to use the force out which means that all he must do is touch the base to which the runner is attempting to advance before he gets there while having possession of the ball, and that runner is out.
Here is an example:
There is a runner on first base, and the batter hits a ground ball to the shortstop who fields the ball and tosses it to the second baseman who catches the ball and steps on second base with his foot while maintaining possession of the ball.
Because the batter must run to first base on a ball in play, the runner on first is required to advance to second. This allows the defense to take advantage of the force out rule and save themselves the effort of trying to tag the runner.
Tagging a Sliding Runner
When tagging a sliding runner, the tag should actually look more like a swipe than a tag. When preparing to take the throw, the defensive player should position himself on the outside of the bag or in a straddling position in order to avoid the runner who should be sliding into the front of the base. After catching the throw, he should swipe his glove down in front of the base as the runner is sliding in and immediately remove it as soon as contact is made.
By rule, the defensive player must actually tag the runner before any part of his body reaches the base; however, holding the glove on the runner as he is sliding in gives the umpire the illusion that the defensive player missed the original tag.
Don’t be mistaken, the defensive player should make sure to actually touch the runner with the tag, but even if the tag is missed, if the ball beats the runner and the “tag” in this instance is applied as a quick swipe, the runner will look as if he is out, and the umpire will likely call him out.
Tagging a Non-Sliding Runner
Tagging a non-sliding runner is a different story. There is no fooling the umpire when the runner comes in standing up. It is very easy for umpires to see when a standing runner is not tagged. In this instance, the defensive player should catch the ball and secure it in his glove with his throwing hand before applying the tag.
Doing this ensures that the ball does not pop out of the glove as the glove makes contact with the runner. In situations where the defender must reach out to tag a non-sliding runner (like chasing down a runner in a rundown), throwing hand security is not as big of a priority.
Tagging a Runner at Home Plate
Crossing home plate is sacred in the game of baseball. After all, the team who crosses the plate more than the other wins the game. This is why it is important for catchers to know the proper way to tag a runner out on a close play at the plate.
The catcher must position himself just in front of the plate in order to avoid a collision if the runner does not slide. If the runner does slide, the catcher must receive the throw and employ the same swiping technique as an infielder. The runner is allowed to slide past home plate in this instance. As mentioned earlier, holding a tag on a runner who slides past the plate makes the umpire believe the catcher missed the tag.
Some coaches teach their catchers to block the plate in order to apply a tag. Coaches who teach this must understand that it is illegal to block a base (including home plate) without having possession of the ball. Also, blocking the plate creates some serious safety concerns. Plays at the plate are typically tag plays. The only time it becomes a force play is when the bases are loaded.
How can a runner avoid a tag?
As long as a runner stays inside the baseline and stays within an arm’s reach of the base, he is able to do whatever necessary to avoid a tag. Typically, runners try to slide around the tag or maneuver body parts in such a way that makes it difficult for the defensive player to tag him.
What if the defensive player loses possession of the ball after tagging the runner?
The defensive player must maintain full possession of the ball throughout the whole act of tagging the runner. If he loses possession before or during the tag, then the runner is safe.
Can the runner force the ball out of the defensive player’s glove?
No. The runner may not use his hands or any other part of the body to forcibly knock the ball out of the defensive player’s hands. However, if his normal running or sliding motion causes the ball to pop out of the defensive player’s glove, then the runner is safe.