Runner on second, 1 out, and the defense is ahead 4-3 in the 8th inning.
The hitter hits a line drive right back up the middle. The runner gets a good read from second and has turned third by the time the centerfielder gloves the ball. The centerfielder wants to keep his team ahead, and he knows he doesn’t have much time, so he rears back and fires a throw to the plate. The throw goes way over the head of the cutoff man but gets to the catcher (too late) on the fly. The runner is safe at the plate (the game is now tied 4-4) and the hitter moves up to second on the play.
The next hitter hits a ground ball to the shortstop—2 outs, runner on 2nd. Then, the following hitter hits a soft single to the outfield, and the offense takes the lead.
What Went Wrong:
What went wrong? What mistake(s) did the centerfielder make? In this situation, the centerfielder let the game speed up on him. He prepared for the play only by recognizing that the runner on second was the tying run. He did not think about the fact that the most important runner was the batter. By overthrowing the cutoff man, the centerfielder not only took away the double play that would have come on the next ground ball, but he allowed the go-ahead runner to get into scoring position. This just can’t happen.
As an outfielder, there will always be a few chances every year to make a throw that will gun down a runner at a base. But there will be far more chances to make a small play, like holding the batter-runner at first when you recognize that you can’t make the play at the lead base. These 90-foot victories, as we will call them, are huge in helping your team win. This is not playing it safe; this is playing it smart.
Outfielders can prepare for making game-winning throws and game-winning decisions like this one, everyday. It starts with quality catch-play. We have some great suggestions for outfielders looking to improve their catch routine here. Outfielders who take the time to play quality catch and focus on building arm-strength are better able to make low, hard throws that are both able to be cut off by the cutoff man, and have the carry to reach the lead base. This gives the outfielder the potential to throw a runner out at the lead base, and still keep the trail runner where they are. When it comes to outfield throws, you must think the game and train smart.