Sometimes one play will not only determine the outcome of a game but will be the defining play that people will always remember in sports yore. Whether it is John Havlicek stealing an inbound pass in a basketball playoff game or a young Cassius Clay beating Sonny Liston with a “phantom punch” people will remember the play for decades and it will passed down to generations. It was in the 2001 playoffs. The Yankees were playing the Oakland A’s. In the seventh inning Terrance Long of the A’s hits a ball off pitcher Mike Mussina down the right-field line. Shane Spencer fielded the ball and made a wild overthrow that goes over both cutoff men. Derek Jeter appears almost out of nowhere to field the baseball and then “flips” it home to catcher Jorge Posada who puts the tag on Jeremy Giambi who didn’t slide. He is called out and this play became known as the ‘Flip Play.” Many believe this play changed the momentum of the series and the Yankees went of to win and ended up going to the World Series.
A few years later I was in a playoff game and we were playing a better team but we were in this game. I had told my team we cannot make more mistakes than our opponent or we would not be in a position to succeed. We were losing 5-3 and the strength of my batting order was coming up in the fifth inning. We had first and second with no out. I kept reminding my player on second base that if I send him home on a hit to slide. The batter hit the next pitch between the center fielder and right fielder. As soon as it was hit like any coach should not do, I already started thinking ahead with the runner on second scoring and would try to get the runner at first to third and maybe if they threw it to third, the batter would end up on second base and we’d have second and third with no out. The centerfielder made a great play moving to his left and scooping the ball up and throwing it home. Still, as my baserunner was coming to third base, I yelled like I do in these situations, “touch the base and go home and SLIDE.” The throw incredibly was perfect strike and arrived at the same time as my baserunner did. But for whatever reason, my player did not slide and he was tagged out. If he slid he would probably have beat it. To make matters worse, the catcher came up throwing to third base getting my runner going there from first. Again, if my player slid, the chaos at home would have almost assured my first base baserunner getting to third safely.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for players to slide almost all the time. It takes effort and courage but the baserunner’s chances of being safe are increased tremendously by sliding. In the Oakland-Yankee playoff game, Jeremy Giambi would have been safe. One play can determine the out come of a game, a playoff , a world series. I have stated it many times that we have to remember we are coaching 10,11 and 12 year old kids. But we have to practice baserunning and sliding.
I always teach my players to slide on any force out even if they are going to be called out by 20 feet. I want other teams and knowing that we always slide. This will sometimes cause the fielder to make drop the easiest ball just knowing a player is coming in and sliding and sliding cleanly.
Sliding is excellent fundamental baseball. Learn the correct techniques and teach your players then practice it. Good sliding will keep you in games and also win some for your team.
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