The Situation: Runner on 1st, 1 out, the offense is down 3-2 in the top of the 7th. The runner on first has average speed and the hitter has good power to the pull side. The defense knows this, so the center fielder is deep and shading towards the gap.
The Play: The hitter blasts a ball into the left-centerfield alley. The center fielder gets a good jump and takes off at full speed back into the gap. The runner at first can’t tell if the center fielder is going to get to the ball, or if it’s going to drop, so he goes about half way to second and stops, watching to see what happens. The ball drops just beyond the center fielder’s glove. The runner from first takes off for second, rounds the bag and goes to third, but is held up because the third base coach doesn’t want to risk a close play at the plate. The hitter makes it to second with a double.
The Outcome: With runners on second and third and 1 out, the defense walks the next hitter intentionally, then gets a double play ball that ends the inning and maintains the lead.
What Went Wrong?
This play hinged around the base runner being comfortable enough to get as far off the bag as possible. When a ball is hit deep into the gap, especially when the outfielder is running away from the infield, going only halfway to the next base is not the right option for a base runner. There is no way that an outfielder is going to make that catch, stop his momentum, and make a throw all the way back in to double the runner off first. In this play, the runner immediately has to recognize the situation, and he has to end up a few steps from second base. That way, if the ball drops, he can use second to push off of on his first step, and get his momentum going faster. Not only has he gained a crucial extra 45 feet, but he’s at his top speed almost immediately. The heads-up baserunning turns into an easy run for the offense, and the game is tied.
The runner can round second while the ball is still in the air, if he wants. This can give him an extra couple of steps if that ball drops. But remember, if you round second base, and the outfielder then catches the ball, YOU MUST RE-TAG THE BAG on your way to back to first. If the runner cuts straight back to first without retouching second, and the defense appeals to second base, the runner is out.
As a base runner, use every advantage you can get, especially in late inning situations. Gain as much ground as you can, and be aggressive on the base paths. 90-foot victories are huge. Look for them and take advantage of them. See them as situations develop. Think your way around the bases. Think the game.