Man on second, 2 outs, bottom of the 8th inning. The defense is ahead 4-1. The offense’s best hitter, the 4-hitter, is at the plate.
The pitcher knows that this hitter could not only drive in the run but could also hit the ball out of the park. The hitter on deck is an average hitter and doesn’t have the eye for the zone or the power of the guy at the plate. The pitcher doesn’t want to let the offense get back into the game, so he decides to pitch very carefully to the 4-hitter. He plays with the corners and walks him on 5 pitches.
The 5-hitter comes up to the plate looking for a pitch to hit early. The first pitch misses right down the heart of the plate, and he hammers it into the gap for a double. Now, the hitting team has all the momentum. The next batter hits a single and the game is tied.
What Went Wrong?
In this example, the pitcher has to understand that the situation is more important than the matchup with the hitter. Even if the 4-hitter had hit a home run, the defense would have been ahead 4-3. The free pass doesn’t force the offense to earn it and helps set them up for a big comeback.
In the late innings, momentum is key. Coaches will often talk about “rally-killing” home runs. While there is little statistical evidence to back up that psychological fairytale, it is true that making a team earn 3 hits in a row is a taller task than assisting them with a walk and giving up 2 hits, no matter who is coming up to bat. Whether you believe the idea that rallies are tougher to start following a 2-out home run or simply believe in making the offense earn their keep, it’s obvious that the walk in that situation is not a strategic move.
As a pitcher, when your team has handed you a lead, you can’t pitch scared. You have to avoid putting runners on base when a walk or bloop hit could bring the potential tying or go-ahead run to the plate. The tying and go-ahead runs are the ones you have to worry about. Challenge hitters. Remember, even though you don’t want the offense to score any runs, the main objective is to ensure your team holds on to the lead and wins. Slow the game down and don’t get caught up with match-ups. Think about the situation. Think the game.