A walk-off victory feels sweet no matter how badly you might have played in the game, writes Rob Jones. A walk-off defeat feels galling, no matter how well you might have played to take the game to the wire. The last moment is the one that affects you the most, and lives with you the longest.
So it’s a curious feeling when your final two actions were poles apart, and yet as close together as the bang-bang of a play on the bases.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning against the Old Timers in Enfield on Sunday. The Herts Raptors had misfired a bit to start off, and so were behind all the way. But a late rally had meant we started the ninth just 3 runs behind. Two had already scored, the tying run was at third base.
Two men were out. So it was now or never as I stepped up to bat. After driving in two runs in the first inning I had popped up, lined out, grounded out to the pitcher and — according to my own scoresheet – hit an infield single off the handle of the bat.
This time, I took a strike, I took a ball. And then I hit one sweetly through the infield to tie up the game. Job done. Not quite hero time, maybe, but definitely on the high end of the high scale.
I stole second easily enough after the lefty pitcher tried a couple of throw-overs. And once on second, my thoughts turned immediately to taking third.
Once up on a time, I never stole third. My schooling from watching Major League teams was that you didn’t do it. There is no real need, and it is risky.
But practical experience in British single-A baseball made me much more inclined to do it. A good jump should see you safe, and most pitchers don’t and can’t pick off well to second.
Being on third would have given me the chance to score on a close play at first from the next batter, or would allow me to score on a pass ball.
So I looked, and the pitcher looked at me. Then he settled in to make his next pitch. I was thinking of taking a walking lead and going — rather than setting up as an obvious steal. But as I took that casual extra step the pitcher turned, and immediately I was screwed.
My weight was going the wrong way, but I hadn’t strayed far enough to make it worth dashing for third. I tried to get back, but felt the tag applied. From hero to goat in seconds.
I can’t remember when I was last picked off on second base. To be honest, I’m not sure I have ever been picked off from second base. Yes, picked off at first a couple of times. That’s sort of inevitable if you play the game for long enough. But never at second.
However, having a career not-getting-picked-off-at-second-base average of 0.001 doesn’t make you feel any better about it when it happens. Getting hit by a bus doesn’t hurt any the less because you haven’t been hit by a bus before. As I said at the start, it’s the most recent moment which most colours your opinion.
Even though July is just a few days old, I am already nearing the tail end of my season. Four games gone, two to go.
We have games against London and Essex looming, then a rematch with the Old Timers which I can’t make, and a game against Haverhill which they have already forfeited. By my own reasoning, I am approaching the defining and lasting moment! The one to remember all winter!
It’s been pretty good fun so far, I have to say. Three wins and one defeat in my games . A refreshing change from so many previous years! The batting average is about .400, the on base percentage a smidgen higher.
Playing one consistent position at shortstop has been a highlight. I’ve had one memorable fielding play in each game, and have felt mostly happy with how I handled the ball. It is recorded elsewhere on this website that I had some frustration at Haverhill, but even that ended with three put-outs.
The other highlight of the year has been the spirit in the team. A winning record certainly helps, but there has been a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of smiles.
If we can keep playing at our best we could head into post-season playoffs. Which would add a whole new opportunity to create a final moment to remember.
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