The Situation: Runner on 3rd, 1 out, bottom of the 8th. The offense is down by one, with their 7-hitter at the plate. The runner on 3rd has been told he’s green (going) on any groundball to the infield, except the one back to the pitcher, and green on any fly ball to the outfield.
The Play: The hitter lofts a fly ball to medium left field. The left fielder has a decent arm. The third base coach yells “Tag! Tag! Tag!” The runner goes back to third and stands with his right foot on the bag, left foot out, turned so he can look over his left shoulder. As soon as the ball disappears into the glove, the runner turns back to the plate, and takes off for home.
The Outcome: The left fielder throws a two hopper just up the baseline. The runner slides in, and the catcher dives back to the plate, just getting his glove on the runner’s cleat as it moves towards the plate. The umpire calls the runner out.
What Went Wrong?
The runner did a lot of things right on this play. He read the fly ball correctly, understood his job on a fly to the outfield, and listened to his base coach. And when it came down to it, the play was decided by a matter of inches – a fraction of a second.
Where the runner lost the fraction of a second was in the way he set up on third base, as he was tagging up and waiting for the outfielder to make the catch. With his right foot on the bag, he had to turn his entire body away from the plate in order to watch the play. Then, when the ball was caught, his first move was to turn back to the plate, wasting precious time.
Whenever you’re tagging up from any base, plant the foot on the bag that allows your body to be facing the ball in the outfield. This will put you in a better position to immediately break for the plate once the catch is made.
If you’re on third base, you should almost always tag up with your left foot. The only exception to this is if the ball is going to be caught in foul territory down the left field line. On second base, any fly ball to the left of second means that you should tag with your right foot planted on the bag. Balls to the right side of second base are trickier, because they are basically behind you. It is a judgment call which foot to use on these.
Always be prepared in these situations. It’s the little things that make the difference between being out or being safe, and that directly translates into wins and losses. Do the little things right. Think the game.