Stealing Third Base, Stealing Home, and Other Baseball Thievery
Stealing third base is generally easier than stealing second. You can take a bigger lead at second than at first without drawing many throws. If your timing is good, you can also take off from second before the pitcher actually releases the ball.
Pitchers generally find it more difficult to pick runners off second than at first; the timing between the pitcher and his fielder must be precise. To catch you at second, either the second baseman or the shortstop has to cover or cheat (lean) toward the bag; this leaning opens up a hole for the batter. Alert coaches let you know when the fielders are sneaking in on you.
The potential to steal third depends on the batter at the plate. If a right-handed hitter is at-bat, you have an advantage because the catcher must throw over or around him to get the ball to third. But never try to steal third with a lefty at the plate, unless you get such a good jump that even a perfect throw cannot beat you.
Stealing third isn’t a good gamble unless your success rate is 90 percent or better. Because you’re already in scoring position at second, getting picked off can devastate your offense. Stealing third when your team is more than two runs behind is foolish. And making the first or last out of an inning at third, whether through an attempted steal or simply by running the bases, is considered a big mistake.
The only reason to steal third with fewer than two outs in a close ball game is so that you can score on a fly ball or ground out. However, if you’re a proficient base thief, it does makes sense to steal third with two outs; being on third rather than second in that situation offers you nine more opportunities to score.
Memorize the following if-you’re-on-third-you-can-score-on list and dazzle your friends with your baseball erudition:
- A balk
- An infield hit
- A wild pitch
- A passed ball
- A one-base infield error
- A fielder’s choice (where the hitter and any other baserunners are safe)
- Baserunning interference
- Catcher’s interference
- A steal of home
Home, stolen home
Speaking of stealing home, think long and hard about it — the odds are against you. If you must, only attempt to steal home during the late innings of a close, low-scoring ball game with two men out and a weak hitter at the plate.
Obviously, home plate is the one base you steal entirely on the pitcher, because the catcher makes no throw on this play. Your best victims are pitchers with unusually slow deliveries or long wind-ups.
Having a right-handed batter at the plate when you attempt to steal home provides you with two advantages. First, the hitter obstructs the catcher’s view of you at third. Second, if the batter remains in the box until just before you arrive at home, he can prevent the catcher from getting in position for the tag.
Delayed, double, and fake steals
With the delayed steal, slide-step into your regular lead when the pitcher releases the ball and then count 1-2-3. This should slow your takeoff just long enough to persuade the catcher and infielders that you aren’t stealing. Race for second after you count. (You may also first break out of your lead and return to first to camouflage your intentions.)
Catchers have no way of knowing who will cover second base on a delayed steal until either the second baseman or shortstop moves toward the bag. If you’ve caught those two infielders napping and no one covers second, the catcher has to hold onto the ball or risk throwing it into the outfield.
Double steals are possible whenever two bases are occupied. With runners on first and second, this play is nothing more than two straight steals occurring simultaneously. With only one out, the catcher will probably try to erase the lead runner heading to third. With two out, he may go after the slower of the two base stealers.
With runners on first and third, double steals become more complex. Imagine you are the runner on third. Your teammate on first should break full-out for second as the pitcher delivers the ball. You move down the line toward home. Halt as the catcher receives the pitch. Don’t move until the catcher commits to throwing the runner out at second.
Be alert in case he fakes a toss to the bag and instead throws to his pitcher, who fires back the ball for a play at the plate. The throw’s trajectory should tell you if it is going to second base or to the pitcher — the throw will be higher if it is going all the way to second base, so hesitate long enough to see this. Dash home as soon as the second-base-bound throw leaves the catcher’s hand.
If you are the runner on first for this play, helping your teammate at third to score is your primary goal. You may break for second while the pitcher is in his set position. Should your movement distract the pitcher, he may balk. In that case, both runners advance one base.
Attract a throw to first, and you can force a run-down. While you jockey to elude the tag, the runner on third can score.
Fake steals open the infield for the batter at the plate. You can bluff the opposition by taking two and a half quick strides out of your primary lead before coming to a halt. Your movement should draw the infielders out of position, because one of them must cover second base.