By Eric Johnson
The Situation: Runners on first and second, one out. The three-hitter is at the plate. Both runners have good speed, but the runner on second is the fastest player on the team. The first baseman is playing just behind the runner at first. It’s the bottom of the 7th and the game is tied.
The Play: As the pitcher starts his motion, the runner on second breaks for third. The runner on first sees the runner on second go, but freezes for a second – there was no steal sign on, and he just doesn’t react quickly. Then he takes off for second base. The hitter takes the pitch. The catcher knows that the runner from second has third base stolen easily, so he comes up firing to second base.
The Outcome: The runner is thrown out at second for the second out of the inning. On the next pitch, the batter hits a deep fly ball to center to end the inning.
What Went Wrong: The runner on first killed the rally by getting thrown out at second. He made two mistakes.
First, the runner on first should constantly watch the runner on second. With the first baseman playing behind him, he needs to trust his first base coach to tell him if there is a pickoff coming his way. He should angle his body in a way that lets him see the runner on second. Then, he should constantly be prepared for that runner to take off. He can’t be caught flat-footed.
Second, after being caught by surprise at first, the worst thing the runner can do is to compound the error by breaking late for second base. The runner going from second to third has put his team in a good position by getting to third base with less than two outs. All the hitter has to do to knock in the run is hit a fly ball. While the best situation would be having runners on second and third (to have two runners in scoring position and to avoid the double play) the worst situation is to eliminate a scoring opportunity by making the second out at second base.
Whenever you are on the bases, be aware of all the possible situations that could come your way. Understand your role – is your run important, or are you a secondary concern at the moment? Never allow yourself to be caught by surprise on the base paths. Think the game.