Intentionally walking a batter is a strategy used by the fielding team to reduce the damage that may be caused by a big hitter coming up to bat, or to face a weaker hitter, or to load bases in such a way that would give the defensive team a better chance of getting out of an inning. The Herts Under-14 All Stars found themselves needing to adopt the “intentional walk” strategy in the bottom of the final inning of their game with the Essex RedBacks. The intentional walk which they executed turned out to be the game winning play. It will go down in baseball history as the most effective intentional walk ever and it is very unlikely that the multi-million dollar superstars of Major League Baseball will be able to equal that.
Starting pitcher Tom Everex-Armstrong made his debut for Herts and pitched a gem to give his team a good platform to go on and win the game. He allowed only 3 hits and 2 runs, striking out 9 in his 4 innings of work. Going into the bottom of the final inning Herts were leading 14-7 but they found themselves in a shaky situation as Essex had scored 5 runs in the previous inning. With 2 outs and runners on first and second base, up stepped Essex slugger, Chris, with one home run to his name already. Herts Manager, Kent Peterson, gave the intentional walk sign to his son and closing pitcher, Gavin Peterson.
Despite being Under-14, both Peterson and catcher, Brodie Caress, were very familiar with how to execute the intentional walk and ensure that the batter had no chance to reach out and make contact with the ball. The hitter took the first pitch as it was way outside. He seemed to realise that he was about to get the ultimate acknowledgement that his opponents want to avoid him at all cost, and from that point it was very difficult to find a reason or explanation of what happened next. On the next pitch, to the surprise of the large crowd which had gathered, Chris made a late nonchalant swinging motion with his bat. The umpire wasn’t quite sure what was happening but had no option but to call strike. On the third pitch, Chris swung again but this time aggressively, clearly trying to make contact with the ball. He missed. The Essex coaches started giving him clear instructions not to swing at these intentional walk pitches out of the strike zone. With fans and players streaming in from the Under-17 game which had just finished on the adjacent diamond, tension was building up and everyone was on their feet, not knowing what exactly they were seeing and what will happen next in what was meant to be a routine intentional walk. It must be said that the batter Chris was obviously a very competent ball player. Despite being Under-14, he had earlier pitched a brilliant game for the Essex Under-17 team and coming from an American family was obviously a very accomplished and knowledgeable baseball player. The only plausible explanation is that he simply wanted to make a big impact on the game and tried to do the impossible. With a 2-1 count he followed the instructions of his coaches and took the next pitch without swinging the bat, but on the 2-2 pitch he stunned everyone by taking an almighty hack at the pitch and managed to make contact with the ball for a foul tip. Amazingly, Herts catcher, Brodie Caress, somehow caught and held on to the foul-tipped ball for strike three, third out, a win for Herts and jubilant celebrations as Herts players and fans invaded the field.
There are over 2,000 MLB games shown on TV every year but the game of baseball somehow continues to surprise us with something new and unique every time.
The final out will be talked about for a long time, but it is also worth mentioning Callum Vangundy, Brian Moulton, Drew Mayhew, Ben Jones and Jamie Brener who all had a good day at the plate and gave the pitching staff the run support they needed.
Essex won game one 13-7, so the Herts Under-14 All Stars stay with a .500 winning record in the league standings.
LATE INNING DRAMA
The clash between the Under-17 teams of Herts and the Essex RedBacks was just as dramatic. A shaky start for Herts in game one gave them a mountain to climb, but pitcher Zack Longboy came in and pitched almost perfect 2 and 2/3 innings allowing only 2 hits and 1 walk, but most importantly, no runs. He was helped by some good defensive plays, most notably Charlie Mayhew’s spectacular catch in the outfield followed by his throw to second base to get the force out and the inning-ending double-play. Herts were catching up fast, but at the end they ran out of outs losing 11-9 with the tying run at the plate.
Game two was a real classic. Both teams were matching each other inning-after-inning. It came down to the bottom of the final inning. A walk allowed the winning run to get on base and then quickly stole twice to get to third. With the runner on third base representing the all-important winning run, Herts had to employ the extreme defensive formation of both infield and outfield playing in to have a chance of stopping the runner advancing on a ground ball or on a sacrifice fly. At the end the defence could do nothing about it as a wild pitch went passed the Herts catcher for the winning run to come in.
Despite two heartbreaking losses, there were many positives for Herts including impressive batting by, Kieran Manning (2-3, 2 RBI) , Matteo Manzi (2-6, 4 RBI), Jose Morillo (2-5, 1 RBI), Liam Green (4-6, 3 RBI), Jonny Compton-Weight (2-7, 2 RBI) to add to the 0.00 and 2.08 ERA performances by Longboy and Green in game 1 and 2, respectively. They will need a few more good pitching outings like this to bring down their ERA for the season, as the London Mets Under-17 team caused some long-term damage to that statistic in the Opening Games of the BBF Under-17 League season.
For full stats, box scores, standings, schedule and more, visit the official Herts Little League website.