The visiting team is clinging to a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the 5th inning of a playoff game but the home team has been putting runners on base and threatening. They have a runner on 1st with 2 outs and their hottest hitter is up to bat with a 2-2 count.
The batter chops a breaking ball down the third base line a step or two to the backhand side of the third baseman. The third baseman hesitates momentarily and then decides to field the ball on a backhand short-hop. He takes two steps towards the bouncing ball but can’t get to the short-hop in time. The ball skips over his glove, virtually untouched.
With the left fielder shifted towards the right center gap, the ball rolls at a medium pace all the way to the outfield wall before the outfielder can get to it. The runner from first, despite an injured knee comes all the way around from 1st to score and the batter ends up on second uncontested with what is scored as an RBI double.
What Went Wrong:
The third baseman can do little more than look at his glove in disbelief. This is a major mental mistake on the part of the third baseman, who plays what should be a ground out into a momentum shifting RBI double. Physically, the third baseman gets a poor read on the ball at contact. This is a physical mistake and there is little to criticize on that. The fielder’s decision-making after his initial hesitation, however, is the big think the game error that requires more attention.
On a play like this, the third baseman must know that priority 1 is keeping the ball on the infield. We’ve seen this mistake manifest itself in other situations before, like this shortstop mistake. This thought process needs to starts before the ball is even put in play. Before the batter comes up, the third baseman needs to run through his mental checklist, reminding himself of the value of the run at first base and making himself aware of the left fielder’s defensive positioning. Above all, he must understand that now is not the time to make a due or die risk that could end up with the ball making it down the line. He must move his feet and get in front of the ball whenever possible.
For more context, check out the play for yourself in this video. You can see that, after a little hesitation, the fielder takes an unnecessary risk when the opportunity to get in front of the ball is there. If he gets in front of the ball and can’t play the hop, there are runners on 1st and 2nd. It’s a mistake he is sure to learn from and one that you can use to improve as a ballplayer. Understand the situation, think ahead, and think the game.