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Baseball is a game of individuals and confrontations between individuals. At that moment when the pitcher stares into the catcher’s mitt, scratches himself, gets into his windup, and fires the pitch home, it’s all between him and the batter. There may fielders in set and ready position on the field, baserunners languishing off their bases, and teammates and coaches watching anxiously from the dugout, but during those few nanoseconds of drama, baseball becomes a two player game.
Likewise, on virtuall any play – a flyball, a grounder, a popup etc. – all attention focuses only on the fielder and perhaps the runner that he will attempt to throw out. All plays that is, except for the hit-and-run. Simply put, a hit and run is a play in which a runner on any base (usually first) takes off as soon as the pitcher releases the ball, and the batter at the plate attempts to make contact no matter what kind of pitch he gets and wherever it’s thrown.
Wi the exception of a double steal, the hit and run is the only play in which two players on the offensive team work in conjunction with one another. The coach or manager who makes the call must take care to select an instance in which the runner can get decent jump and the pitcher throws a good pitch to hit.
The batter must make every attempt to put the ball in play, or if he cannot, do anything he can to “protect the runner”; meaning he must time and place his swing accurately enough to block the catc r’s ability to see the fielder covering second and throw accurately. Obviously, the hitter and runner both have to be aware that they will be attempting to execute a hit and run and the pitcher has to be careful to both hold the runner and throw a good tch, making a hit-and-run one of the few instances in which the action and confrontation expand past the usual one-on-one format. As with all risky actions in life, the hit-and-run can yield great dividends or cause great losses for the team attempting to execute it. The advantages of a successful hit and run include allowing the baserunner to take an extra base on a base hit or eak up a double play on a groundball. The disadvantages include minimizing the effectiveness of a good hitter (since he’s forced to swing, no matter what comes at him), or worse, causing a strike-em-out-throw-em-out double play if the batter is unsucces ul at making contact. That can totally destroy a potentially big inning. As a result, the-hit-and-run is generally executed only when there’s a good runner on base and an above average hitter at the plate. One would not, for example, expect to see Luis jo executing the “hit” part of a hit-and-run with Cecil Fielder on the basepaths. As a matter of fact, you wouldn’t likely see the free-swinging and oft-missing Fielder involved in a hit-and-run play from either vantage point. But, to use another exampl from the 1996 World Champions, two current Yankees who might have a higher likelihood of implementing a successful hit-and-run together are Wade Boggs, who despite being 169 years old remains one of the purest hitters in the game and can consistently be elied upon to put the ball in play, and Bernie Williams, one of the fastest runners on the team. Their combined contact ability and swiftness make them perhaps the quintessential example of a model hit-and-run duo. It should be noted however, that speed is not the only skill required for the player attempting the tail end of the hit-and-run to be successful. Since the runner is flying down the basepaths at full speed with all of his adrenaline flowing, he must be ble to make a lightning quick shift of gears and go back to his original base, against his momentum, if the situation should call for it (i.e. linedrive or popup). Therefore, in addition to speed, he must also be a smart baserunner, able to make instan neous decisions and act on them rapidly. That decision alone, whether to take another base, stand at the current one, or backtrack to the previous one, can in some cases be the deciding factor in determining the outcome of a play, an inning, or an entir game. And that is what makes Williams, with his five years of big-league experience, a better hit-and-runner (with emphasis on the “runner”) than rookies Derek Jeter and Andy Fox, who may have more speed, but lack baserunning smarts. A manager must consider a myriad of other factors besides the hitter and runner(s) involved when determining whether or not to call for a hit-and-run. “Who do I have due up next? What hitters do I have on the bench? How good is the opposition’s pitcher and of what quality are the arms available in their bullpen? What’s the score? How many outs are there? How late in the game is it? What is the morale of my team/ability to come back from behind?” A good manager will consider all of these questions and re before deciding to call for a hit-and-run.. If he sees that he has a bunch of solid contact hitters due up, he may not want to increase the chance of an out by calling for a hit and run. On the other hand, with two outs and the bottom of the order co ng up, he may want to call for the risky play even with a runner of only average speed on the base paths. A tie or one run game in the late innings may prompt a manager to risk going for the extra base as well. So clearly, the hit-and-run is not a play at should be called for haphazardly without considering all seemingly extraneous factors, which in reality are crucial and fundamental in determining the sensibility of calling for a hit-and-run. Knowing how to understand and take advantage of them to t utmost, vis-a-vis the hit and run and other strategies, separates a Joe Torre, a World Series championship manager who is confident in his ability to gauge potential hit-and-run situations and capitalize on them, from a Buck Showalter, a much more cons vative manager, who, perhaps because he didn’t know how and when to use the hit-and-run effectively, rarely called for it, and eventually lost his job. All in all, the excitement of a hit-and-run is pretty much unparalleled in baseball. For those who complain that it’s a boring sport, the hit-and-run provides running, hitting, pitching, defensive maneuvering, and throwing all on one play. It can also as climacteric as it is dramatic; successful or unsuccessful implementation of the hit-and-run can often be the difference between triumphant victory or crushing defeat. It may well be the most strategy oriented, thought provoking element of the game. e hit-and-run expands baseball beyond the one-on-one confrontations that some people may perhaps find unappealing about the game, and keeps everyone on his toes.
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