Situation: It’s the bottom of the 8th, there are 0 outs, and the offense is behind 4-3.
Play: The first hitter of the inning is a power hitter and wants to drive a ball and get into scoring position. He works the count to 3-1. Certain that he will get a good pitch to hit, he swings wildly at a high fastball that would have been ball 4.
Outcome: The pitcher makes a good 3-2 pitch, and the hitter flies out to start the inning. The offense does not score in the inning.
What Went Wrong: There is nothing more valuable to a team than a player who will do anything to get on base. In a tight game, no matter who is up, the most important thing is getting baserunners. A study found that leadoff hitters who reach base score almost 38% of the time. College coaches live for numbers like that.
It’s hard for a hitter to go up to the plate in a big situation and be calm enough to work a count and disciplined enough to take a walk. It’s a skill that you have to develop, and is truly more mental than it is physical. It just takes commitment. Your teammates and coaches will all appreciate it too, because you show that your first objective is the good of the team.
In close games, your preparation must play not only off your strengths but, more importantly, the need of the team. You can’t get carried away with trying to force an outcome, when that opportunity simply doesn’t present itself. It happens to everyone, but the good players learn to control it and take what comes to them.
In this situation, like every situation, the best way to help your team is to step in with the goal of focusing on the next pitch. This is an achievable goal. Once you make this commitment and once you buy into the philosophy of a team-first approach, you will become not only a better ball player, but a more valuable player to your team. By focusing on one pitch at a time, you won’t lose focus by trying to write a narrative that doesn’t fit. When the 3-1 pitch comes in, you will be sitting on a particular pitch and or speed. When it doesn’t come, you’ll take the pitch and provide your team with a much needed base runner. Thinking the game is about controlling what you can control, and your focus on the next pitch is all that matters.