A rundown or pickle occurs when a baseball baserunner gets caught between two bases. When base running, you try and get to the next base on a play if you think you can get there safely. However, if you realize you won’t make it there safely, you might back pedal and get caught between two fielders and their bases.
So, why is it even called a “pickle” in baseball? What is an example of a rundown situation in a Major League Baseball game? Do some runners purposely get into a pickle to help advance another runner on base? How should the defense defend against this play?
Here is the complete guide about what a pickle is in baseball.
Why is a Run Down Called a Pickle in Baseball / Softball?
According to Through the Fence Baseball, the origin of the word “pickle” in baseball comes from England. In England, you were in a pickle when you were in a tough spot. During a baseball or softball rundown, the baserunner is in a “tough spot” between two fielders guarding two different bases. To help simplify that message, the TV announcer will say that the baseball player is in a pickle.
What is an Example of a Pickle in Baseball?
Let’s say that a New York Yankees player hits the ball to the outfield, and the Colorado Rockies outfielder gets to the ball and fires it into second base. The Yankees baserunner was halfway to second base and realized that the throw would beat them there, so they stopped and headed back to first base. If the fielder at second gets the ball, they can throw it to the first baseman before the runner gets there, creating a pickle for the baserunner. Now the baserunner needs to run to get to either base safely.
Another example of a pickle occurs during a pickoff attempt. For instance, a runner on third base is taking a big lead towards home plate. The pitcher could toss the ball over to the third base, and if the runner wasn’t expecting that, they might get caught between third base and home plate. The baserunner must figure out how to safely get back to third base or break for home if they feel they can beat the throw and avoid the tag. Usually, they will be in a pickle situation for a bit during this play.
How Do you Get out of a Pickle in Baseball and Softball?
During a pickle situation, the baserunner needs to know where the ball is between infielders. The baserunner needs to break for a different base when the fielder throws the ball with their throwing hand to another fielder. The baserunner will need to choose when they fully sprint to another base, so it comes down to timing their jump exactly on a toss from a fielder and avoiding a tag via a slide.
One thing to note is that the baserunner must stay in the diamond’s base path (baseline) to get out of the pickle. That means that the baserunner can’t go into the infield diamond grass to avoid a tag from a defender. Instead, they must stay in the imaginary line between the two bases to get out of the pickle.
Do Baserunners Purposely Get into a Pickle on Plays?
During a high school, college, softball, or MLB game, baserunners will purposely get into a pickle to move up a different runner on the basepaths. Big leaguers practice this type of play constantly because of its effectiveness. So how would this play even work?
For example, let’s say that there is a runner on third base and a runner between first and second base. The defenders might catch the runner between first and second in a pickle and forget to watch the runner on third base since they are trying to get that baserunner out. If the runner on third base notices that the fielder threw to their teammate, they could break towards home plate to score, especially if there are less than two outs. Sometimes the runner between first and second is okay with getting out as long as they can get the runner from third home due to the defense forgetting about them.
How Should the Fielders Defend against a Pickle in Baseball and Softball?
The defense should protect against the pickle in a few ways.
- There should always be a defender at the base ready for a throw to apply a tag against the runner.
- Whoever catches the ball should run up the base path towards the base they are going towards. Running towards the base with a ball helps close the baserunner’s distance. Closing that distance means that it takes less time for a toss to reach a fielder.
- Another player should take that spot once that fielder leaves the bag to run.
- The thrower can fake a toss to a base to help duke out the runner. However, make sure you don’t confuse your teammate on the throw because that can lead to an error on an actual pass.
- You want to have the ball and make a clean tag on the baserunner as the fielder. Be mindful that the baserunner is trying to avoid your tag, so make sure your glove is in front of your body to take away space between them and the base.
- If there are other baserunners, it is up to the defense to communicate if another runner is taking too big of a lead. For example, a runner on third base might take off towards home plate while the defense is trying to get someone out between first and second. It is up to the defense to alert the fielders if this happens so they can stop that baserunner from scoring with a throw to the catcher.
Conclusion: What is a Pickle in Baseball?
In summary, a pickle in baseball and softball means that a baserunner is stuck between two bases. The runner is between two bases, and the defense is trying to tag them out on the basepaths. Teams practice this play both on offense and defense constantly. Preparing how to get in and out of pickle is critical in baseball and softball.
Also, it is worth noting that some players purposely get into a pickle. Staying in a pickle can take a few seconds, which might be all the time necessary for a player at third base to take off and attempt to score at home plate. It is up to the defense to watch the runner they are trying to get out and the other runners as well. Since teams practice this type of baserunner play, the defender should always be ready to throw the ball to home plate.