By Eric Johnson
The Situation: Runner on first, nobody out. The game is tied in the bottom of the 8th. The hitter doesn’t have good speed. It’s an obvious bunt situation, so the defense puts on a crash play to try and get the runner at second.
The Play: As the pitcher starts into his stretch, the first baseman crashes hard towards the plate. The hitter squares and pops the bunt up between the mound and the first base line.
The Outcome: The first baseman catches the popup easily. The runner on first retreats to the bag.
What Went Wrong?
This is a tricky one. Obviously the hitter didn’t put the bunt down, but that’s a physical mistake. Physical mistakes happen. As hard as they are to accept, you have to move on from them.
There were two mental mistakes in this scenario. First, almost every team will have verbal sign for the hitter to pull back the bunt if the defense shows a crash play. Sometimes the hitter will be expected to just pull the bat back and take the pitch. Other times, the hitter is supposed to look for a pitch to hammer on the ground towards one of the open holes. Either way, you never want to bunt directly into a crash defense, because you’re probably giving up the lead runner.
The second mental mistake was made by the first baseman. Now, he didn’t actually do anything wrong, but he could have made a play to distinguish himself. If you ever want to catch a college coach’s eye, make a play that shows that you can think on your feet and make exceptional mental plays. Coaches can judge physical ability easily, but you have to show your ability to think every chance you get.
Here, the first baseman should have camped under the popup, and then let it drop! (*Keep in mind, when you do let the popup drop, you can’t touch the ball in the air and then intentionally drop it. The umpires will call it an out on the catch because you aren’t allowed to deceive the runner.)
As soon as the ball drops, the first baseman needs to pick up the ball and throw it to first base (to your second baseman who’s covering the bag- he needs to be thinking too). The runner on first (if he’s doing the right thing) will either be on the bag, or very close to the bag. If the force out at first has not yet been registered, he can be tagged out even while he’s on the bag! The second baseman needs to catch the throw, tag the runner, and then tag first base for the force out. If the runner at first is off the bag, the second baseman can tag the bag and then get the runner in a rundown.
This is the type of quick-thinking play that will get you noticed. By making an exceptional mental play you can turn one out into two, and completely shift the momentum of an inning. This is the type of situation you have to prepare for in pre-pitch. Always be prepared! Think the game!