By Eric Johnson
The Situation: Runner on 2nd, 2 outs, the 5-hitter is at the plate. The game is tied in the top of the 7th. The scouting report on the hitter says that he tries to hook the ball and is vulnerable to soft stuff on the outer half. The 6-hitter, on deck, has had terrible at-bats all day, and has looked really uncomfortable at the plate.
The Play: The pitcher falls behind 2-0 with 2 curveballs down and away. The catcher calls for an outside changeup. The pitcher shakes. The catcher calls for the curve again, but again the pitcher shakes off. The catcher isn’t sure why the pitcher wants to go with the fastball. He knows that this hitter is a good fastball hitter, and that they have a base open. But the pitcher’s only other pitch is a fastball, so he calls for a fastball. The pitcher nods, comes set, and deals.
The Outcome: The hitter, in an advantage count, is sitting on the fastball. He crushes the ball into the left-centerfield gap for a double, scoring the runner from second, and giving his team the lead.
What Went Wrong?
Obviously the pitcher was overly-aggressive in this situation. He had no need to challenge the hitter with an open base, and should have known that the hitter liked fastballs, and would sit on one in a 2-0 count.
However, the catcher made the bigger mistake here. The catcher needs to be in tune with the pitcher’s thinking, and can’t be afraid to go out to the mound and talk about the situation. The catcher knew that the he shouldn’t call the fastball, but did it anyway because it was the only pitch that the pitcher wouldn’t shake off. That’s no excuse.
In a situation like this, the catcher needs to call time and go to the mound. He needs to make sure that the pitcher remembers that this hitter is a good fastball hitter, that he’s pull happy, that first base is open, and that the on-deck hitter has looked bad all day. The catcher has to take charge!
The leaders on the field are typically the catcher, shortstop, and center fielder. That being said, anyone who notices a mental lapse by a teammate needs to feel comfortable speaking up. For instance, in this situation, if the first baseman knows that the pitcher is overly aggressive in general, and realizes he probably isn’t thinking about the open bag at first, then the first baseman should say something.
Be a leader on the field. Understand the situation, and understand when your teammates need help. Saving them from making mental mistakes could save your team runs and wins. Be prepared for every situation. Think the game.