Think the Game

First and Third

The Situation:   

There are runners on first and third, there’s one out, and it’s a tie game in the 7th inning. The 7-hitter is at the plate. The third base coach tells the runner on third that he’s “off on contact.” The middle infield is at double-play depth, and the corners are in.  

The Play:   

The runner on third knows that if the ball is hit on the ground, he has to run. He wants to at least make the play close at home, so he inches down the baseline to shorten the distance. The hitter swings and ropes the ball towards third. Because the runner on third is so eager to get a good jump, he takes a hard step towards the plate on contact.  

The Outcome:   

The third baseman reaches out and catches the line drive. He quickly tags third, doubling off the runner.  

What went wrong: 

The runner on third had the wrong mindset going into the pitch. Coaches will put the “contact play” on with runners on first and third and one out because they would rather sacrifice the runner on third at the plate than give up a double play that will end the inning. The runner on third has to know that he doesn’t have to get a great break towards the plate. No matter how fast he is, a ground ball to a corner infielder who decides to come home will probably mean that he will be thrown out at the plate.  

The runner on third has to be somewhat cautious of this exact outcome. The worst thing that can happen is that he gets overly aggressive with less than 2 outs. The runner should take a more conservative lead so that he can easily get back to third on a line drive. More importantly, he has to have the mindset. Instead of going on contact, he’s “seeing the ball down.” This means that he’s going to take off for home when he sees that the ball is going to hit the dirt. That will help the runner freeze on a line drive.  

If you’re on third with less than two outs, take a shorter lead and see the ball down. The worst thing you can do is kill a rally by letting yourself get doubled off. Don’t be in a rush if you’re going for home on contact. You must be smart on the bases, not out of control. Understand the situation. Think the game.