The Situation: The best hitter on the team, Jason, is up to bat. Runners on 1st and 2nd, no outs, tie ballgame in the top of the 7th inning of a Super Regional playoff game. Jason has been in a terrible slump—the worst of his career. He is 1 for his last 20, and 0 for 3 tonight with 2 strikeouts. He hasn’t bunted all year, but knows what sign is coming. All he can think about is all the times he has blown-off bunting work in practice, thinking that a hitter as good as he is would never need to bunt.
The Play: Jason picks up his coach in the 3rd base box, and gets the bunt sign. He is not confident in his ability to get the job done. The first pitch comes and Jason stabs at it, missing the curveball entirely, 0-1. He peaks down to third, hoping for a hit-and-run at least, but the time isn’t right. He has been striking out a ton and his coach doesn’t trust he will get the ball to the ground on this night. Bunt sign, again! The 0-1 pitch comes in and the batter squares to bunt. A fastball this time that he fouls straight back, leaving himself in an 0-2 hole. Sensing the lack of confidence, the coach lets his slugger swing away with two strikes.
This time, it’s a hard slider out of the zone. The hitter picks the spin up late and swings at it like a fastball, catching the ball at the end of the bat, out in front. The bouncing ball is directed right at the shortstop, who starts the easy 6-4-3 double play.
The Outcome: The next hitter hits a deep fly ball caught on the warning track and the game stays tied. A few innings later in the bottom of the ninth, a wild pitch with a runner on 3rd and two outs scores the winning run for the opposing team.
What Went Wrong: It sounds cliché, but some of the most important plays of a game are determined by work put in on an entirely different day or even month. Super Regionals take place in June, but this play was determined by a failure to practice the right way from September to May.
No player is too good to get better at any skill or facet of the game. A pitcher who strikes out a ton of hitters is never too good to work on holding runners. A hitter who normally rakes is never too good to work on his short game. If you are an All-American hitter, chances are that when you are given the bunt sign, it will be a HUGE situation in the game/season. No one is ever too good for a drill or exercise at practice. This is a classic case of how games can be won or lost before they even start. Don’t put yourself in a situation at practice that will compromise your in-game performance. Do your best at every aspect of the game, you never know when your number will be called to do something unexpected. When it is, be ready! Think the game.