The highs and lows of the walk-off

The Herts Hawks have been as high and as low as baseball can take you in the past two weeks. Paul Auchterlounie — catcher, outfielder, and all-around baseball good guy — was in the thick of it, and shares his experience.

Paul Auchterlounie
Your correspondent, Paul Auchterlounie

“The walkoff.  Possibly the most exciting way to end a baseball game. It doesn’t get much closer than the bottom of the last inning, or extras,  the game is tied and someone gets to be a hero.

The best kind of hero? Perhaps the hitter who clubs the walkoff home run, in the first at-bat, off the first pitch.  Or perhaps the hitter who fouls off several pitches before getting to first, stealing second, then charging round third on another hit to cross the plate.

Whatever your kind of hero, the walkoff is a great way to win a ballgame, and a devastating way to lose. In two weeks, the Herts Hawks have encountered both emotions. Interestingly, on two similar plays.

Last week, on possibly the second hottest Sunday in the summer, they travelled to Croydon to take on the Latin Boys. Outclassed in Game 1 and handed a thumping loss, Game 2 needed a change. But with only eight players as one had to leave early, there could be no changes of personnel. Instead, the Hawks dug deep and behind a stellar pitching performance from Nick Russell somehow were still in the game heading into the seventh. 

We needed four runs to make the Latin Boys bat again. And we got them. Then held them scoreless. Then into extras. I’m sure we played 2 extras but everyone said it was only 1 — blame my confusion on the heat! We were held scoreless in however many we played.

So, bottom half. Leadoff batter. A ground ball up the middle, under the glove of the shortstop. The runner starts to head for second, OK we’ll get him there.  Oh no! Overthrow. Fielded by first, and the runner has taken off for third. We’ll get him there. Oh no! Another overthrow into the trees. Dead ball.  Extra base, and the batter gets home. What a way to lose. And Nick Russell didn’t really deserve to lose on that performance, but that’s baseball.

Then onto today. At home versus Thames Valley and to the end of a somewhat fraught game, punctuated by rain delays, disputed calls, arguments, but thankfully no punches! This time the Hawks had to do it, having so nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by giving up a 6 run lead in just over 2 innings to be behind by 3.  I have already forgotten the actual order of play, and who reached, who didn’t,  except for Paul Curtis who scored the winning run, and Greg Bochan who hit the ball enough for Paul to score.  Well……sort of….

Here’s the interesting bit, see, and how Hawks won in a similar way to how they lost the previous week. And even more exciting, this happened with 2 outs. The ball was a fly ball to very shallow centre. Infielders couldn’t make the play, outfielder had no chance. But only when the ball hits the floor does Paul decide to run to third! (haven’t we repeated enough “2 outs, run on contact”!) 

Surely he’s left it too late?? The game’s going to extras……but no! The third baseman somehow lets the ball out of his glove without applying the tag. Winning run now on third…… no wait! What’s this?? Paul’s run through the stop sign. Was there one?! There was certainly a STTTTOOOOPPP shouted from the bench! He’s now heading for home. The third baseman throws, taking a good line inside the baseline.  All the catcher has to do is apply the tag, and Paul’s done like a kipper……….But it’s gone past him!!! Paul stands on home plate and the home bench erupts!! (apologies to Thames Valley, but the emotions got on top of us!).

Hugs and high fives all round. A get-the-lead-let-them-back-in-it-have-to-do-it-all-now-come-from-behind win. But commiserations to Thames Valley, we DO know how it feels to lose a game on throwing errors. And their pitcher probably didn’t deserve to lose wither, because he pitched a blinder. But that’s baseball. And that’s the excitement of the walkoff.”

Start a Conversation