The pitcher has been cruising along, but it’s now the 5th inning and he’s run into trouble. His team is ahead 4-2, but he started off the inning with a hit batter, a bloop single to move runners to 1st and third, a 3-2 walk to load the bases and the last batter just hit a rocket sac fly that was luckily right at the center fielder. To say he’s on the ropes would be an understatement and he has a little self-doubt running through his mind as he gathers the ball back from his infielder.
The pitcher turns towards his coach, who is not coming to take the ball, and then faces the hitter. He notices that the next batter looks timid as he walks up to the plate. He’s walking to the plate like he doesn’t want to be the guy up in this spot. Immediately, the self-doubt disappears and the pitcher realizes that he’s one pitch away from getting out of the inning. He focuses on his breathing, looks at the corner of the press box to reset and toes the rubber with a new sense of purpose and confidence. The batter takes a long look down at third base, but with runners on 1st and 2nd and 1 out, his coach has nothing on and doesn’t even give him a sign. His attention is on the runner at second and checking the field. Still, the batter waits to make eye contact with his coach, who finally looks home and claps.
Almost as if he could control the outcome, the pitcher gets ahead quickly with a fastball for a called strike and a fastball for a swinging strike. It’s 0-2 and the pitcher knows he has the batter where he wants. He throws him a good slider and the batter makes weak contact with a butt-out swing. It’s as routine of a 4-6-3 double play as you’ll see and the defense turns it to end the inning and escape any more damage. The pitcher pounds his glove with excitement as he walks back to the dugout.
What Went Wrong?
Sometimes think the game moments go unmarked in the box score and even unnoticed on the field. The pitcher may have been the only one who picked up on the weakness shown by the hitter, but that’s all it took for him to flip the switch and snap out of his funk. One of the reasons why baseball is such a chess match is because the mental game plays a huge role. There’s a reason why every Major League organization uses the services of a sports psychologist—your psychological state can make a huge difference in your performance.
Is confidence the only reason the pitcher got the hitter to ground into a double play? No. Confidence didn’t execute the 0-2 slider. However, it certainly didn’t hurt the conviction behind the pitches and provided the pitcher with the wake-up call he needed to stop feeling sorry for himself and mentally reset. The battle between pitcher and hitter can be a big game of cat and mouse. The choice is up to you whether you want to look like the cat or the mouse. We have an article that talks about the role of body language in recruitment. Those same lessons apply on the field. Walk with confidence, display positive body language, think positive thoughts, and if you have to, fake it until you make it! Not giving your opponent the slightest hint of fear or defeat is another way you can think the game.