The Situation: Runner on second, two outs. The 7-hitter is at the plate. The defense is ahead by one. The wind has begun picking up and is blowing out to left.
The Play: The second baseman is focusing on his positioning before the pitch. He knows that he can’t give up any ground to hold on the runner, because the most important thing is that the hitter does not hit a single. The second baseman takes a few steps back to give himself some ground. He can feel a little wind, but it never really registers with him. The game is tight and he is concentrating on doing everything he can to keep that runner from scoring. The hitter takes an off-balance swing hits a soaring popup that starts to come down just a few steps back over the second baseman’s head. He backpedals quickly, calling the ball immediately. The popup seems to hang high in the sky. The second baseman thinks he is camped right under it. Then, as the ball come down, the second baseman sees he misjudged the ball and needs to drift to his right. All of a sudden he takes a couple hard steps toward the middle of the field and dives, but the ball has drifted all the way into no-man’s land, and it drops.
The Outcome: The runner was off with the crack of the bat and scores. The hitter never stopped running and ends up on second base, giving the offense another runner in scoring position.
What Went Wrong?
In pressure situations, the worst thing that a fielder can do is to allow himself to get caught up in the moment and see only the big picture. There are always a thousand little details that infielders must take into account when fielding a ball: the speed of the infield, the speed of the runner, if the ground is wet or dry, if the dirt provides good footing, where the other infielders are, the position of the sun, etc., etc. The wind is another basic detail that always has to be considered, something this second baseman forgot. All too often in big situations, we allow the game to speed up on us. We stop paying attention to the details and focus only on the goal, in this case, that the run doesn’t score.
In pressure situations, you have keep all the details in mind as you prepare for each pitch. The way to prevent that run from scoring is by being over-prepared. There is no longer any such thing as a routine play. You have to imagine how all the details (including the wind) might influence potential plays. You have to go through every scenario in your head and understand your job in each one. By doing this, you will be able to play defense at your highest possible level. And that will keep that run from scoring.
Don’t let the game speed up on you. Get yourself under control and be prepared. Know the details. Think the game.