Think the Game

Advancing the Runner

The Situation: 

Runner on 2nd, nobody out, the 3-hitter is at the plate. The game is tied in the bottom of the 8th inning. 

The Play: 

The 3-hitter, a righty, wants to drive in the run and put his team ahead. He looks down to his third-base coach and sees that the bunt sign is not on. He’s ready to swing. He knows from experience that the best pitch for him to drive is middle-in, and his approach is to try and find that pitch and hammer it into the gap. The pitcher throws a two-seamer that starts middle-in. The 3-hitter recognizes it as his favorite pitch and swings, but the pitch runs in on him a little. He gets jammed and hits a grounder to the shortstop. 

The Outcome: 

The shortstop fields the ball cleanly and looks the runner back to second, then throws the hitter out at first. The next hitter hits a deep fly ball that is caught. The 5-hitter strikes out to end the inning and the game remains tied. 

What Went Wrong? 

In this situation, the 3-hitter got greedy and didn’t understand his role at the plate. Even though he’s the 3-hitter, one of the best hitters on his team, and the guy that the coaches want up in this situation, that’s no excuse for not having a good plan of attack when he steps up to the plate. He allows the situation to get the better of him and failed to take an appropriate approach.  

When a hitter comes up late in a tie game with a runner at second and nobody out, the absolute worst-case scenario has to be that, at the end of his at-bat, the runner is at third-base with one out. When the 3-hitter’s coach doesn’t give him a bunt sign, it means that the coach has faith in his hitter to commit to an approach of “move him over or get him in”. The hitter can’t let himself get carried away and forget what he needs to do.  

As a right-handed hitter in a situation where he is trying to use the backside two-thirds of the field (anything to the right of the shortstop), he has to consciously adjust his approach. Some guys take a step back off the plate to make more pitches seem like they’re on the outer half, and easier to hit to the right side. Other guys will simply eliminate the inner half of the plate mentally, and will try to hit any pitch they can on the outer half. For lefties, the approach is exactly the opposite. Some guys get right up on the dish or take everything on the outside corner. Others focus on rolling their hands a bit early to hook the ball to the right side knowing it will either be a hit through the 4-hole or at minimum, move the runner over with a groundout. The bottom line is, you have to get the minimum job done and move the runner over. 

Now, just because you have an approach doesn’t mean you can’t try to drive the run in. But be smart about it. Try to use the appropriate part of the field and give yourself the best odds of a successful outcome. If you end up falling behind in the count, battle and do whatever you’ve got to do to get the job done and help your team. In situations like these, team at bats get the job done. Don’t let big situations throw you off of your game. Slow down, collect yourself, and think the game.