A high drive taking off into the Eugene sky and sailing over the outfield fence for a home run is a beautiful sight to see. Oregon Ducks spectators get off their seats and cheer as the slugger rounds the bases to be greeted by his teammates at home plate. Hitting a home run is quite an achievement, but there is more to baseball than trying to go yard all the time. What has made Oregon Head Coach George Horton a successful manager is the ability to implement small-ball tactics when the Ducks are at bat.
These tactics set up a chess match between the two managers, with opposing players shifting around defensively waiting to see what move Coach Horton makes with his Ducks at the plate. In a game against Arizona State, Coach Horton used his small-ball tactics successfully, so let’s take a look at some of his small-ball tactics.
Let’s focus on this bunt-single by Oregon’s Scott Heineman. In the GIF above, Heineman doesn’t give any indication that he is squaring up to bunt until the ball is thrown by Arizona State’s pitcher. Also, notice the positioning of Arizona State’s third baseman when he comes into view. He is in a standard position expecting a grounder, not a bunt. Once Heineman puts down the bunt, it is a beauty. The ball hugs the third base line and comes to rest a few inches from rolling foul. Both the catcher and pitcher wait to see if the ball goes foul, but to no avail.
Although an impressive bunt single by Heineman, keep in mind that the Ducks play on artificial turf. Only the pitching mound has real dirt, with the rest consisting of turf. It would have been interesting to see where a bunt like Heineman’s laid down on dirt would have wound up. Just a small piece of dirt could have dictated the ball rolling fair or foul. However, the bunt — which was signaled from the dugout and relayed to Heineman — worked in Oregon’s favor. This just one move that makes Coach Horton brilliant in playing small ball tactics.
Oregon has been struggling at the plate recently, and this has put runs at a premium. With small ball, Coach Horton will sacrifice to advance a runner into scoring position, while hoping to score the runner. In the GIF above, Oregon’s Mark Karaviotis lays down a sacrifice bunt. Unlike the first video, Karaviotis is already squared up to lay down the bunt. In this situation, a bunt is needed to be put down the third base line, forcing the third baseman to make the only play available with a throw to first.
Putting a bunt down the first base line or straight to pitcher would have allowed a play at third base resulting in a possible out. In this case, Karaviotis does his job by putting the bunt down towards the third baseman, advancing the runner to third for the Ducks. This is yet another example of Coach Horton using his small ball tactics to his advantage.
Bunting isn’t the only tactic Horton uses for small ball. With a runner on third with less than two outs, he expects at the very least a sacrifice fly deep into the outfield to allow the runner at third to tag up and score. In the GIF above, Tim Susnara does his job by driving a ball about midway to right-center field allowing Phil Craig-St. Louis to tag up and reach home safely. If Susnara had failed to deliver, it would have been a long walk back to the dugout. A single would have done the job as well, but scoring the run was the main objective, and Susnara delivered on his end.
Enough of the sacrifice plays. Let’s look at one of the main features of small ball, which is the single. Getting a runner on base allows Coach Horton to put his small ball tactics into use. In the GIF above, Oregon’s Jakob Goldfarb hits a single past the diving glove of Arizona State’s second baseman into right field. Although hesitant rounding second, Craig-St.Louis gambles by going to third and making it safely despite being tagged, because the third baseman was unable to hold the ball. A positive result!
A bunt, sacrifice, or single are small tastes of Coach Horton’s tactics when implementing small ball at the plate. Opposing managers have a difficult task in dealing with Horton when these tactics work for the Ducks. Small ball may not be as eye opening as a home run, but with Coach Horton at the helm, expect these winning tactics to be played throughout the season.
It may be baseball, but “oh how we love to learn about our beloved Ducks!”
Oregon Baseball Analyst for CFF Network/FishDuck.com
Top Photo by Gary Breedlove