By Eric Johnson
The Situation: Runners on 1st and 3rd, with nobody out. The corners are playing in to cut off the run at the plate. The runner on 3rd is in “green,” so he’s going to be breaking for the plate on a grounder.
The Play: The runner takes a hard, walking lead, wanting to get a decent-sized lead in order to try and put pressure on a play at the plate. As the pitcher deals, he goes into a strong secondary lead. The hitter crushes a line drive right at the third baseman.
The Outcome: The third baseman snares the liner. The runner freezes when he sees the ball in the air, then dives back for third. The third baseman also lays out for the bag and reaches it first, for a double play.
What Went Wrong?
It’s pretty common for a team with runners on 1st and 3rd to be willing to force a play at the plate on a ground ball in this type of situation. The idea is that they’d rather give up that runner and stay out of a double play, than risk holding the runner on 3rd and ending up with one man on and 2 outs.
But here, the runner did 2 things wrong. First, when you’re a runner on 3rd with less than 2 outs, and the third baseman is playing in (or anywhere close to the bag) you have to shorten your lead. The worst possible scenario is a line drive to the third baseman that turns into an easy double play. It’s a complete rally-killer and a gift to the defense. Shorten both your primary and secondary leads to the point where you can dive back to third without even taking an extra step.
Second, the runner froze on the line drive. A lot of you have probably been taught to freeze when you see the ball in the air. That’s the old school mentality, and it’s changing quickly. Now, especially as a runner on third, you’re going to immediately step back towards the base when a line drive is hit. You’ll give up some momentum and will be a little slower advancing if the liner gets through, but coaches are coming to realize that you gain more from taking the extra step back and avoiding the double play, than you lose if the ball gets through.
Always remember, when you’re the runner on third, the rally hinges around you. Your smartest base running needs to come on third base. You can spur a rally by stealing a run on a ball-in-dirt that bounces a little too far away, or crush a rally by getting doubled off. Always be prepared. Think the game.