Think the Game

Running with Your Head Down

The Situation:

It’s the bottom of the 5th and the offense is trailing 1-0. They have runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs for the very light hitting 9-hole hitter, who almost surely will be bunting.

The Play:

The batter shows early and the corners crash on a stretch bunt defense. As the corners crash, the shortstop takes off for third and the second baseman takes off for first. The pitcher delivers and the batter, seeing the middle of the field wide open slashes. He hits a sharp ground ball to shortstop that finds its way to the outfield. The center fielder charges in hard and gets to the ball quickly. The third base coach decides to play it conservatively with no outs and hold the runner up.

The Outcome:

The runner stops at third and the ball goes into the shortstop. He turns around to find that the runner who started on first was thinking 1st to 3rd and had put his head down and rounded second. He looked up to find himself in no-mans-land with nowhere to go. After an easy chase, the shortstop runs him down and tags him out on his way back to second. The defense is still in trouble with runners on the corners and one out. But, a double play can now get them out of the jam unscathed and with the lead.

What Went Wrong?

This is a classic case of how the situation (no outs, hard hit ground ball center fielder angling towards third) could have helped the runner make a better decision if he was thinking the game. The runner from second had a good chance to score. But, the third base coach felt that it was not worth risking the out with the bases loaded, no outs, and the top of the order coming up. The trail runner needs to be aware of this and also needs to keep his head up as he runs so he can continue to evaluate the play.

We’ve talked about how the idea that you can simply “put your head down and run hard” is an outdated figure of speech and doesn’t accurately show what you need to do on the bases. The trail runner makes an embarrassing mistake and only had himself to blame.

While it’s important to be aggressive, the situation matters greatly. Even if the runner from second had been sent around to score, the center fielder meeting the ball with his momentum going towards third base makes it an easy and short throw to third that would have had him out by as much as a half dozen steps. Take a look at the play for yourself here. Would the runner have been safe at 3rd? It’s highly unlikely. This play is another reminder that thinking the game on the base paths means keeping your head up and being aware of the play as it develops.