The Situation: There are runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out in the top of the 7th inning. The offense is trailing by one. Wanting to remind his players that the go ahead run is on second, the coach yells out, “On your bellies, keep the ball on the infield!”
The Play: The batter chops the 1-2 pitch into the 6-hole and both the 3rd baseman and shortstop go after the ball. The runners at both bases take off running. Judging by the speed of the runners and the pace of the batted ball, it will take a near perfect play for the shortstop to get an out at 1st which would be the only possible out. As the shortstop gets close to the ball, he realizes that he will have to hurry. He tries to pick the ball on the backhand while positioning himself to get a quick throw off to first.
The Outcome: The shortstop plays himself into an in-between hop and the ball tips off his glove and rolls towards the left fielder. The runner from second rounds third and scores without a throw. The next hitter bounces into a double play, but the damage has been done and the lead blown.
What went wrong: You may recall the challenge we gave you awhile back, “The Run that Matters.” This is another case that illustrates the importance of knowing the run that matters, this time from the defensive perspective. It also highlights the importance of situational awareness. Needing a near perfect play to get the out, the shortstop should have realized that the correct play in this situation was to smother the ball and make sure he kept it on the infield. Especially as the home team, the important runner is the go ahead run. Even though you would like to keep the lead, this situation calls for damage control, especially knowing that you have more at bats left than the visitors.
If the shortstop got in front of the ball and fielded it cleanly or knocked it down, he could have arm faked a throw to first to try to catch the trail runner rounding 3rd. If the arm fake didn’t work, the double play would still be in order and the defense just one pitch away from getting out of the jam. Since plays like this happen fast and have a lot of moving parts, it’s important to remind yourself of the situation and think through your options ahead of time. Remind yourself who the important runner is and keep him from scoring at all costs. Remind your fellow fielders of the situation before the play to ensure you are all on the same page. Be the smartest player on the field, think the game.