By Eric Johnson
The Situation: Runner on second, nobody out, 5th inning. The defense is ahead by one. The left fielder has a decent arm and the runner on second has only average speed.
The Play: The hitter smokes a liner into left field. The ball is hit just to the left of the left fielder, but he is able to get around it and field it while charging. The runner on second got a good read and was off on contact. As the third baseman gets into position to be the cutoff man, he sees the third base coach throw his hands up with the stop sign. He relaxes a little and prepares to take the left fielder’s throw. The runner runs straight through the stop sign and is trucking towards the plate. The left fielder’s throw comes in head-high, and the third baseman cuts it.
The Outcome: All of a sudden, the third baseman realizes that people are calling for him to throw home. He whirls and tries to get off a throw, but he can’t get a grip and the ball squirts out of his glove. The run scores easily.
What Went Wrong?
As a fielder, you should never assume that the offense will do the expected or even the correct thing. Always anticipate that the runner will try to take the extra 90 feet. You will never look stupid for taking the throw correctly, with your feet and body moving towards home plate, when the runner holds at third. You will always look bad if the run scores because you got sloppy.
In this situation, the third baseman saw that the opposing base coach was holding the runner, and he just assumed that there would be no play at the plate. His assumption cost his team an easy out and a run.
Now, it’s always a good idea to look at the third base coach when there’s the possibility of a play at the plate. When you get on a big stage, especially if there are a lot of fans screaming in the stands, it will be too hard to hear your catcher or teammates. Taking a peek at the third base coach will give you an idea of what might happen. BUT, that doesn’t mean you can relax. Always be prepared to make a play. Move your feet, get the ball out of your glove quickly, and take away the possibility of an extra 90 feet whenever you can.
All of this is pre-pitch preparation. You need to know what you have to do before the pitch is even thrown, and once you’re in the situation, it has to be a reflex. Understand what the responsibility is for your position at every play. Never be surprised and never be caught off guard. Think the game.