There’s no one on and no one out in the top of the 6th inning. The right-handed hitting 3-hole batter is coming to the plate for the third time as the offense looks to extend their 3-run lead. The third baseman is playing back behind the bag and shaded towards the line. The shortstop is also shaded pull-side towards the 5-6 hole.
After taking a breaking ball for strike one, the pitcher comes back with an inside fastball that gets too much of the plate. The batter turns on it and smashes the ball down to third. The top-spin line drive bounces just inside the line next to the third base bag for a fair ball. The third baseman, reacting in the only way he can takes a quick step and a dive. The ball takes a high hop up on the field turf and the third baseman snares it at full extension.
The third baseman scrambles to his feet. As he makes the transfer, he struggles to get into a strong throwing position. He doesn’t get behind his throw and it sails on him. The first baseman jumps for the high, floating throw. He catches it and tries to put the tag down on the runner before landing on the ground, but his reach is too late. The runner runs past the tag and the excellent defensive stop goes for not. The runner gets to first base with an infield single.
What Went Wrong:
There is nothing routine about this play and you can hardly fault the third baseman’s errant throw, given the rush he was in. But is there something he could have done differently to get off a better throw? We think the field turf holds the answer to that question.
Rather than trying to get the ball to first in the air, the third baseman could have used a long-hop off of the turf to ensure that he gives his first baseman a chance to hold the bag and force himself to get behind his throw. Depending on how long it takes to get rid of the ball and the position of the fielder, skipping the ball off of the turf can actually get the ball across the diamond quicker than an arc throw with little on it. Take a look at Hall of Famer and perennial gold glove third baseman Scott Rolen at the 2:35 mark in this highlight reel footage. It’s not that Rolen doesn’t have the arm strength to get the ball to first base, he absolutely does. He skips the ball to first because he doesn’t have time to organize his body into a position that will allow for a strong throw. He must get the throw off quickly to save time and he knows that turf will not slow his throw down as much as natural grass. Skipping the ball to first like this is something we can almost guarantee that Rolen has practiced hundreds and hundreds of times. It’s all part of thinking the game in advance and preparing for success.
The key to making this play comes from practice and pre-game warm-ups. Anytime you play on field turf, you need to know where to bounce the throw to give your first baseman a nice long hop. Practice this with your first baseman during infield or BP. Find the right hop. Let him know that if you are rushed, you are going to try to skip the ball to him. Not only will the low throw give your first baseman a chance to hold the bag and make the scoop, it also forces you to get behind the ball. Low online throws always give your first baseman a chance. Next time you play on turf, prepare to make the great play in pregame by understanding your playing surface and knowing how to use the bounce.