The Situation: It’s a 0-0 game in the bottom of the 1st. There’s a runner on second base, there is 1 out, and a 2-1 count to the 3-hitter of the home team.
The Play: The pitcher delivers the 2-1 pitch over the plate and the hitter smokes the ball right back up the middle. Following his secondary lead, the runner on second has no time to react as the pitcher cleanly fields what turns out to be a come-backer. The pitcher is alerted that the runner on second is in “no man’s land” when his shortstop communicates this vocally. The runner on second has nothing to do but get in a pickle. As the hitter recognizes this, he astutely rounds first base aggressively and heads towards second base. The runner on second stays in the pickle momentarily but is tagged out by the third baseman.
The Outcome: Following the tag out of the base runner, the third baseman recognizes the batter attempting to get to second base. He quickly throws to second just in time for the second baseman to tag out the hitter as he slides into the base – resulting in a 1-6-5-3 double play.
What Went Wrong?
There were several good instincts displayed by both offensive players, but these instincts were followed by poor decision-making. When you’re on second base, particularly with 1 out, you should be getting an aggressive secondary lead, as this base runner was, so that you can score on a base hit. In the event of a firm come-backer like this one, there’s no fool-proof option, as you’re often likely to be caught in a tough spot between second and third. That being said, once it becomes apparent that your only option is to get into a pickle, it’s imperative that you STAY in the pickle as long as possible. The longer you can stay in the pickle, the better the chance that the hitter can advance all the way to second base. Assuming this works as it should, there will be two outs, but the hitter will have switched places with the base runner, which is the best possible outcome for the offense. In this case, the base runner gives in to the pickle too quickly, rather than hustling to remain in it.
The hitter displayed the correct instinct as well, as he attempted to reach second base as the base runner was involved in the pickle. Unfortunately for him, the base runner was too eager to give in to an out, once he was caught in no man’s land. As the base runner in a less than ideal situation, in this case, a pickle, it’s still important to maximize the potential outcome for your team. While developing solid instincts is vital to excelling at the next level, it’s equally important that you remain composed and committed to the correct play. The difference in this case is the end of an inning versus a 2-out at bat with your cleanup hitter up, and a chance to drive in that run at second base. Even in dire game situations, always think the game.