Several days ago, in the bottom of the 10th inning of a 3-3 game, with one out, the Pirates’ Xavier Paul came to bat. Nobody was on and he was, like most players in that situation, looking to get on base to start a rally or, more likely, hit a homerun and end the game.
He ended up in a 2-2 count and hit weak ground ball on a95-MPH fastball from St. Louis reliever Jason Motte. That ground ball bounced aimlessly to Cardinals’ first baseman Albert Pujols. At first glance, it looked like an easy out. That play is practiced hundreds, if not thousands, of times during spring training and happens at some point of every single game.
Most players in Paul’s position would have jogged to first and conceded the out. After all, it was a hot day in Pittsburgh and the game was in extra innings. Even though he was came off the bench late in the game, after he made contact, there was a pretty good chance he’d be out there for the 11th inning.
But Paul exploded out of the box – it also helps that he is a lefty. The ball took a big hop, which forced Pujols to wait for it, and then is seemed Albert took his time with the throw. To be fair, Jason Motte didn’t seem like he was in a real hurry to cover first either. It almost looked as if Motte expected Xavier Paul to only run to first base as a formality.
Paul won the race and beat Motte to the base for an infield single. On the next pitch, Xavier takes off for second. Catcher Yadier Molina short hops the throw and the ball ends up in centerfield as Paul then advances to third base. Pirates’ third baseman Chase d’Arnaud eventually hits a sacrifice fly to centerfield, giving the Pirates the 4-3 victory and the avoid a sweep at the hands of their division rival.
It takes no talent to hustle. It only takes effort. It can be the difference in winning and losing, making a team or getting cut, having success or wishing for it.
Xavier Paul could have cruised to first. My guess is many major-league players would have. He had every excuse not to run hard. It was hot. It was in extra innings. He hit a weak ground ball. There aren’t many infield singles when you hit the ball to the first baseman.
But he didn’t. He hustled. He ran as hard as he could. He wanted to be safe. He wanted to win. He wanted to be the difference maker.
And he was.
All because he gave his best effort on a play that, in today’s Major League baseball, we expect minimal effort.
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