Introducing a game of ‘Don’t catch me if you can’

By Cory Giger


One of the cool things about baseball is that frequently you’ll see something new or at least something worth discussing or debating when you go to a game.

One such situation occurred during the Curve’s home game last Saturday against Somerset.

It involved whether or not an outfielder should have caught a foul ball and let a runner tag from third to score — which is what happened — or let the ball drop foul on purpose to try and keep the score right where it was at.

“That’s a really good question,” Curve manager Kieran Mattison said during the week. “And that’s something that we talked about as a team after the fact.

“With a fly ball that deep, we’d rather him let it drop.”

This was the situation, which served as a good learning experience in the minor leagues, and can be something youth coaches may want to stress with their players if a similar situation ever arises.

The Curve trailed Somerset, 7-6, with one out in the ninth inning, and the Patriots had the bases loaded. The hitter, Michael Beltre, was batting less than .200 and had already struck out four times that day. He had a 2-2 count.

Beltre hit a fly ball into the bullpen area in right field, and the Curve’s Connor Scott ran it down and made an excellent catch. But he had no chance to right himself to make a throw to the plate, and Brandon Lockridge scored easily after tagging from third to give Somerset an 8-6 lead.

The Curve wound up losing, 8-7.

Had Scott let the ball drop, it would have been 7-6 with a struggling hitter still at the plate in the ninth inning. Maybe Somerset scores anyway, or maybe not.

But in deciding to catch the ball, Scott got the second out but gave Somerset an insurance run for an 8-6 lead.

It can be tough for an outfielder to purposely not try and catch a ball.

“It goes against everything we talk about with the outfield — catch the ball, catch the ball,” Mattison said. “But a certain situation with a deep fly ball and a foul ball like that, we would rather him let it drop and take the risk. If (the hitter) hits a home run next pitch, so what.

“That guy, on top of that, Beltre was struggling, he had four punchouts that day.”

It may seem to some that Scott absolutely should have let the ball drop and keep the deficit at one run for the time being. But depending on the totality of the situation — all things considered — there are times when maybe the outfielder should indeed catch that ball.

Say, for instance, the guy at the plate is batting .350 and already had two or three hits that day. In that spot, then taking the out and giving up one run might have been better than risking that guy getting another hit and driving in multiple runs.

“It’s not black and white,” Mattison said. “It’s a matchup thing. I would have taken my chances that day with Beltre. He was struggling to see the ball.”

“In my mind, I wanted to get an out,” Scott said. “I thought we needed an out. Looking back on it, I probably could have let it fall and seen what happened.

“I think we all got a learning experience from it.”

“It was a learning lesson for Scott and a learning lesson for the whole team,” Mattison said.

What’s crazy about the situation last week is that the Curve and Scott were in a very similar spot just a couple weeks ago at Erie. Same deal — runner at third — in a tie game in the 10th inning and a ball hit near the foul line in right.

Scott knew he wasn’t going to be able to throw the guy out at home, so he waited and waited to see if the ball would go foul. He was fully prepared for the play and knew exactly what was at stake with his decision.

“I tried to let it go foul,” Scott said. “I was watching it, watching it, and it fell really close to being foul. It ended up being fair, but it was a game winner anyway.”

Every position player is supposed to be thinking at all times, on every pitch, What am I going to do if the ball is hit to me? And 99 percent of the time, the decision is easy for them because they have practiced each and every situation over and over and over so that it’s committed to memory.

In the situation last week, Scott knew the runner probably would score from third if he caught the foul ball. He decided to catch it anyway, Somerset scored the extra run and that run wound up being the difference in the game.

Sure, it’s easy to say after the fact that Scott made the wrong decision in that spot. But it still was a tough decision — which had to be made in a split second — and the outfielder can’t be blamed for not being ready for such a decision or not giving his all on the play.

“It was just a weird play, doesn’t happen that often and could have went both ways,” Scott said.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com


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