In baseball, an earned run is any run for which the pitcher is held accountable (i.e., the run scored as a result of normal pitching, and not due to a fielding error or a passed ball). Any runner(s) who tags his base and reaches home plate is scored against the pitcher as an earned run(s). An error made by the pitcher in fielding at his position is counted the same as an error by any other player.
Earned runs are specially denoted because of their use in calculating a pitcher's earned run average – the number of earned runs allowed per 9 innings (regulation game) pitched. Earned runs proceed from the theory that the pitcher has sole responsibility to earn strikes against opposing batter(s) until at least three batters are retired in each inning of play, and nine innings (a complete game) are pitched.
To determine whether a run is earned, the official scorer must reconstruct the inning as it would have occurred without the errors (for purposes of this rule, the "errors" also include passed balls). The benefit of the doubt is always given to the pitcher in determining which bases would have been reached by errorless play.
If no errors and no passed balls occur during the inning, all runs scored are automatically earned (assigned responsible to the pitcher). In a few cases, an error can be rendered harmless while the inning is still going on. For example, a runner on first base advances to second on a passed ball. The next batter walks. Since the runner would now have been at second anyway, the passed ball no longer has any impact on the earned/unearned calculation.
A run is counted as unearned when:
- A batter reaches base on an error (including catcher's interference), and later scores a run in that inning by any means.
- A baserunner remains on base as the result of an error on a fielder's choice play that would put the baserunner out except for the error, and subsequently scores.
- A batter reaches first base on a passed ball (but not a wild pitch) and subsequently scores by any means.
- A baserunner scores after the third out would have been made except for an error other than catcher's interference.
- A batter reaches base on a fielder's choice which removes a baserunner who has reached base safely on an error or has remained on base as the result of an error, reaching first base on a passed ball on a called or swinging third strike, or remained on base on an error on a fielders' choice play that should have retired him, and subsequently scores.
- A batter or runner advances one or more bases on an error or passed ball and scores on a play that would otherwise not have provided the opportunity to score.
In the first two cases above, "on an error" includes situations where the batter makes a clean hit (or walks, is hit by pitch, reaches base on a fielder's choice in which no out is made, or reaches base on a wild pitch on a called or swinging third strike), but should have been out earlier in his at bat on a foul fly ball which was dropped by a fielder for an error. This also includes any run (or any subsequent run) that scores on plays that result in outs with one out or a double play with none out if an error has extended the inning.
While the inning is still being played, this last scenario can cause a temporary situation where a run has already scored, but its earned/unearned status is not yet certain. For example, with two outs, a runner on third base scores on a passed ball. For the time being, the run is unearned since the runner should still be at third. If the batter strikes out to end the inning, it will stay that way. If the batter gets a base hit, which would have scored the runner anyway, the run now becomes earned.
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