There’s a runner on 1st with no outs in the top of the 3rd inning of a 2-2 game. There is good speed on the bases and at the plate and the right-handed hitter is planning to drag bunt for a hit.
The batter drops a beautiful bunt down the third base line on the 0-0 pitch, using the ground to deaden the ball perfectly. The third baseman goes after the ball and the pitcher moves past the play to cover third. The charging third baseman knows he will have no play at 1st, so he breaks down and fields the ball like he’s picking up a ground ball. Astutely, he immediately fires the ball to the second baseman who is covering at the second base bag. While there was no chance at the force play, the third baseman was anticipating and hoping that the runner at second would make a common mistake—round the base before picking up the ball.
The anticipation works to perfection. The ball arrives to the second baseman just as the runner, safe at second, rounds the base by just two steps. It’s enough. The second baseman catches the chest-high throw and slaps the tag down on the runner’s thigh. The runner is caught and doesn’t even have time to try to scramble back. All he can do is run off the field, embarrassed.
What Went Wrong?
Clearly the mistake here is on the base runner. This is actually a very common mistake, whether on a sac bunt or a drag for a hit. Knowing they will have the next base standing up, base runner’s often turn their attention on the next base. There is nothing wrong with anticipating the ability to steal an extra 90 feet in the event of a bad throw, bobble, or a position player failing to cover the next base, but blindly rounding the base is a recipe for mistakes like this one. Before extending off the base, the runner must locate the ball.
One technique you can use is to go into the base left foot forward, and open up so that your chest faces the play behind you. This allows you to anchor the base, open up to see the play quickly, and also puts you in an excellent position to run if there is an opportunity to take 90. A quick pop-up slide can do the same thing.
Anticipation is a must for good base running, but making a blind assumption is asking for trouble. Next time you are the lead runner on a bunt situation, make sure you think the game and pick up the ball before leaving the safety of your base. Infielders are instructed to look for this type of mental mistake and you don’t want to be on the wrong end of it!