Anyone who has been around baseball can be easily confused by all the jargon that’s out there. The one piece of baseball jargon that seems to not fit is when people talk about “the side” of an inning. Typically, this phrase is used when describing a pitcher who “struck out the side”, but that phrase alone doesn’t help define what “the side” is in baseball. What is the side in baseball?
In baseball, “the side” is used to describe the offense or defense within any half-inning, but it is traditionally used within sentences to describe how the defense acquired three outs in an inning. For example, the defense “retired the side” or the pitcher “struck out the side”.
Baseball has two halves to every inning and each of those halves can be referred to as “sides”. Let’s take a closer look at all the different ways baseball players use the term “the side” in baseball, as well as a common misconception about what “the side” means in baseball.
“The Side” Refers to the Offense or Defense of Any Half-Inning
You might not hear the term “the side” by itself too often in baseball, but you’ll usually hear it used within a sentence, so it is helpful to understand what exactly is meant when someone uses this term. Why do they call it “the side” in baseball?
It is called “the side” because there are two teams that take turns on either side of the plate. One side is the defense while the other side is the offense. However, “the side” is generally used within sentences to describe the defense acquiring three outs in a half-inning.
Although “the side” could refer to either the offense or the defense, players almost always use this term within a sentence to describe how the defense got their three outs. So players generally consider “the side” to be associated with the offensive team within that half-inning.
To dig deeper into this topic, let’s look at the most common ways players use this term in baseball.
4 Common Ways Players Say “The Side” in Baseball
Although “the side” typically describes the team that is batting, this term is generally used in short sentences to describe how well the defense performed. In fact, there are four common ways players use this term in a sentence.
1) Retire the Side
Saying that a defense retired the side is probably one of the most common ways that baseball players use the term “the side” in a sentence. What does it mean to retire the side?
“Retire the side” or “side retired” means the defense acquired the third out of that half-inning. To retire the side, the defense does not need to acquire all three outs in order.
“Retire the side” comes from combining the phrases “retire” (a way to describe an out) and “the side” (another way of describing a team – in this case, the offensive team).
Even though it’s not required to get three consecutive outs to retire the side, it’s still very common for players to refer to “retiring the side” as acquiring three consecutive outs from the first three batters.
2) Retire the Side in Order
Another common sentence used in baseball is to “retire the side in order”. But what does it mean to retire the side in order?
“Retire the side in order” is used to describe a defense that acquires three outs from the first three batters in any half-inning. These outs can be acquired in any fashion and they must come from the first three batters of a half-inning, otherwise, the defense has only “retired the side”.
3) Strike Out the Side
One coveted stat by all pitchers is the number of strikeouts they can get, especially in one game. So all pitchers love to end an inning by striking out the side, but what is meant by striking out the side?
“Striking out the side” or “struck out the side” means a pitcher recorded three outs in one inning. To strike out the side, the pitcher does not need to acquire all three outs in order.
“Strike out the side” comes from combining the phrases “strike out” (when a batter is out on three strikes) and “the side” (another way of describing a team – in this case, the offensive team).
Although pitchers do not technically have to strike out the first three batters of any half-inning to “strike out the side”, baseball players and baseball fans almost exclusively use this phrase to describe a pitcher who strikes out the first three batters of any half-inning.
In fact, it’s a pet peeve for most players and baseball fans (myself included) when someone says a pitcher struck out the side, but that pitcher also gave up hits or walks in between those three strikeouts. But as it turns out, pitchers can “strike out the side” without consecutively striking out the first three batters of the inning.
4) Strike Out the Side in Order
Striking out the side in order translates to a pitcher being dominant in an inning, but what does it mean to strike out the side in order?
“Striking out the side in order” means a pitcher ended an inning by striking out the first three batters they faced. If a pitcher can strike out the order by only throwing 9 pitches, they have achieved an immaculate inning.
Whenever someone talks about a pitcher striking out the side in order, they almost always shorten the sentence down to “striking out the side”.
A Common Misconception is Thinking All Three Outs Are Consecutive
The most common misconception around sentences like “retiring the side” and “striking out the side” is thinking the inning ended with the first three batters getting out within any half-inning. However, this is not the case.
“The side” simply refers to a team that is on offense or defense – one team is on the side of defense and one team is on the side of offense. Although, “the side” is most commonly used in sentences to describe the defense acquiring three outs.
Therefore, “retiring the side” or “striking out the side” simply means the defense acquired three outs to end an inning and those outs could have been broken up by hits, walks, runs, etc.
The more accurate way to describe these half-innings is to say that the defense “retired the side in order” or the pitcher “struck out the side in order”. But be aware that it’s still very common for fans and players to leave out the “in order” piece of these sentences and still mean the defense acquired three consecutive outs from the first three batters of that half-inning.