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Easy does it- It's boring, but it wins games

April 29, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

Sometimes, the simple play means as much as the spectacular one. Many sports media types - and I'm certainly one of them - over-hype the flying dunk, the tape-measure home run (or the leaping catch to rob it) and the 80-yard touchdown throw.

But many times, it's an outlet pass, the patience to work a 3-1 count or the tailback picking up the blitzing safety that leads to the ensuing highlight.

Now, like anybody else, I rave over the dunks, the homers and the touchdown bombs. But I also know enough to appreciate the finer aspects of sports, or as I like to say, the finer aspects of winning sports.

When you see these things, you have reason to smile:

  • First-pitch strikes. I'm convinced this is the single most important key to pitching, for a number of reasons ...

    1. The art of pitching is so much easier when ahead in the count. At 0-1, all of a pitcher's options are available with little risk. At 1-0, if a pitcher misses with a curve (or some other off-speed offering) and falls behind 2-0, there are often grave consequences.

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2. Many batters, at all levels, are instructed to take a strike. If they're giving it, you might as well take advantage.

3. If a pitcher is regularly throwing first-pitch strikes, generally he's also regularly getting outs earlier in the count, and therefore, can work deeper into games.

For what it's worth, because I think first-pitch strikes are so important, I also think a located fastball is the best pitch at any level. Breaking balls look better and more often make hitters look bad, but give me a guy who can move his fastball in and out and up and down at will, and I'll show you a guy who will win consistently.

  • Hitting the cutoff man. Yes, there are times when the outfielder should cut loose and try to gun down the runner at home. More often, he should throw it to his cutoff and let him decide whether to make the throw home, or perhaps catch the guy who singled napping off first for what could be a pivotal out.

  • A center who can pass. Nothing breaks down basketball defenses better than a guy in the post who, when defenses collapse, can find his open teammates either on the perimeter or cutting to the basket.

  • Quick ball reversal. Some basketball teams take too long making the two or three passes around the perimeter. On the other hand, there are teams (Hedgesville's boys team is a good example) which whip the ball around from side to side the way baseball teams go around the horn. The faster the passes, the more openings they create.

  • An offensive lineman who pulls into the hole and springs the back. Linemen have the 'pancake,' but there should be another stat for blocks which lead to runs of five or more yards.

    By the way, most NFL linemen are more than 300 pounds and can run the 40-yard dash in under 5 seconds. There are some NFL receivers who can only run the 40 in 4.7.

    Last but not least ...

  • Any hustle play. Anaheim Angels shortstop David Eckstein probably has less than one-tenth the talent of some other major league shortstops, but he gets more out of his talent than anybody because he plays hard every single second.


  • As my youth coaches always told me, hustle can make up for a lot of mistakes.

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