Think the Game

Catcher Backing Up

The Situation:

There is no one on base and 1 out in the fifth inning of a 0-0 game. It has been a true pitchers’ duel, as both teams have struggled to find any base runners, much less scoring opportunities. The left-handed hitting batter takes a deep breath and digs in ahead 2-0 in the count.

The Play:

The right-handed pitcher starts his wind-up and delivers a change-up over the outside part of the plate. The lefty squares the ball up, slightly out front and hooks the ball into the 4-hole between the first and second baseman. The pitcher heads towards first while the first and second basemen make a play for the ball. The first baseman has the initial chance at it and dives for the ball to his back-hand. He gets to the ball with his glove but the hard hit grounder skips up and glances off his leather, headed back towards second base. The second baseman, who also may have had a diving play on the ball, had it gone through without being obstructed, changes his direction to get to the deflection. He gathers the ball and is forced to rush his throw. He fires the ball to the pitcher covering at first with a strong-armed throw. In his hurried state, his throw is off the mark, and the ball ends up behind the running pitcher who can’t adjust in time to catch the ball. The ball tips off of the pitcher’s glove slightly, headed for no-mans-land between home and first. Luckily for the defense, the catcher who ran over to back up first on contact is in perfect position to field the errant throw.

The Outcome:

The runner takes a few steps towards second, hoping to capitalize on the throw before the catcher corals the ball. The catcher throws to the pitcher still covering first in an attempted back-pick, but the runner gets to the bag safely, ahead of the throw.

What Went Wrong?

Can you figure out what went wrong here? No? That’s because everyone executed his role to perfection. Even the second baseman, who had a long shot to get the batter in the first place did everything he could to try to get the runner out.

A variation of this play happened in the World Series, and even though there was no mistake, there is a great lesson to learn! We want to focus on the catcher.  This is a classic case of working the defensive process and completing the defensive assignment. Catchers are tasked with backing up first base every time no one is on base and the ball is put into play on the infield. 99% of the time they back-up, they have no play to make. Had the catcher decided not to back-up, or even been lazy in going to back-up, this play would have been a disaster. The errant throw would have caromed along the backstop and allowed the runner to get to second and likely third base. However, because the catcher covered his responsibility and didn’t try to cut corners, the runner was left on first base. As it would turn out, he didn’t score and the catcher’s heads up defense likely saved an important run. The lesson? Shortcuts will eventually leave you exposed and cost you and your team. Know the situation, think the game.