Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 5/29/12
MILWAUKEE Two Saturdays ago, Minnesota Twins rookie Brian Dozier stood in the Miller Park batter's box during the sixth inning of a tie game between Minnesota and Milwaukee, fighting like crazy to hit into an out.Of course, the only out suitable for Dozier entailed lofting a ball to the deepest part of the park deep enough to score the man standing on third base with just one out."I have to get that runner across," Dozier told himself.That task became much more difficult when he quickly fell behind in the count, 0-2, thanks to a strike looking and a strike swinging from Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo. Dozier followed by fouling off four consecutive pitches, waiting for a ball high enough in the zone to hit in the air.Then, it came: a fastball up and away. Dozier, a right-handed hitter, floated the pitch into right field to score Denard Span on a sacrifice fly to give the Twins a one-run lead.Just two innings earlier, Dozier hit his first sacrifice fly to left field to score Ben Revere.The record books will show that Dozier did not register an official at-bat in either situation. But those two "at-bats" made all the difference during Minnesota's 5-4 victory against Milwaukee in 12 innings that day."If you get that job done, you get the sac fly, that's just as good as a hit to us," Dozier said. "Everybody coming in will high-five you and everything. That was two big situations. Everybody was real pumped up."The sacrifice fly is a play that might go overlooked by fans, but it remains an integral part of baseball. One sacrifice fly each night can mean the difference between winning and losing in close contests across the major league landscape."Those little things," Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy said, "at the end of the games, they pay off big time."Practice makes perfectHitting a sacrifice fly during pressure-packed game situations does not happen by accident at the major league level.Brewers hitting coach Johnny Narron said big-league teams practice the art of the sac fly as part of a daily routine called "situational batting practice" at the start of each pre-game hitting session in the cage. Hitters typically take five swings to get loose before beginning the skills round, also known as the situational round. Then, two swings are allotted to hit-and-run situations. The next two swings often referred to as "get him over" cuts focus on moving a runner from second base with nobody out. Finally, the last two swings are "get him in" situations, with a fictional man on third base and less than two outs.One swing occurs with the infield back. The intent is to produce a groundball up the middle and score a run. The final swing comes with the infield supposedly drawn in, when a fly ball to the deep part of the park will score a run from third.Narron said the Brewers also work on lofting the ball to the opposite field and from gap to gap as part of regular batting practice, which further ingrains the idea of moving a runner over with a fly ball. "It's an overall concept that we try to talk about and work on," Narron said. "It's not just a good sacrifice fly. We look at the multiple options that we have, including the squeeze and the safety squeeze to get that run in."Dozier said players take pride in their ability to produce in clutch situations, even if it means trading an out for an RBI."It's not like you see it three times out of the year," Dozier said. "We work on it every day."Hitter's best friendFor a major league hitter, few at-bats that don't result in getting on base are as rewarding as a sacrifice fly."The sac fly is a beautiful thing," Twins utility player Ryan Doumit said. "You get the RBI in, it doesn't count against your batting average. So it's a beautiful thing."Doumit is tied for fourth in the big leagues with four sacrifice flies this season. Atlanta's Freddie Freeman, Texas' Josh Hamilton and the Chicago Cubs' Starlin Castro each have five thus far."A guy on third, less than two outs, that's free money, man," Doumit said. "That's a free RBI. So you're trying to wait the pitcher out, get a pitch you can handle and try not to do too much."The official scoring of a sacrifice fly has changed over the years, but it has existed in its present form since 1954. A sacrifice fly does not count against a player's batting average, but it does register as a plate appearance and therefore counts against a player's overall on-base percentage.The reasoning behind not counting the sacrifice fly as an at-bat is to avoid penalizing a hitter for a successful maneuver. The only other scenario in which a hitter is not charged with an at-bat while putting the ball in play comes on a sacrifice bunt."I'll take that every day," said Lucroy, whose lone sacrifice fly this season came in a two-run victory against the Cubs on April 9. "I love sac flies, man. Are you kidding me? It doesn't count as an at-bat and you get an RBI out of it? Oh yeah. I love it."Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise that some of the game's best hitters also lead in the all-time sacrifice flies category.Eddie Murray has recorded the most sac flies in history with 128. Cal Ripken Jr. (127), Robin Yount (123), Hank Aaron (121) and Frank Thomas (121) round out the top five. In fact, every player listed in the top 10 has at least 2,100 hits. Murray, Ripken, Yount, Aaron, George Brett (120 sac flies) and Rafael Palmiero (119 sac flies) all have at least 3,000 hits.Narron said the better the hitter, the more likely he is to execute even the most intricate aspects at the plate. "I think one thing that a lot of us forget is it's not easy what major league hitters do," Narron said. "They're facing the best pitching in the world throwing around 90 miles an hour or harder. "Sometimes we'll look at it and say, 'All he had to do was hit a fly ball. We would have had a run.' But to stand in the batter's box and have an object coming at you over 90 miles an hour, with movement, sometimes it's just not as easy as, 'Hey, give me a fly ball and we could've scored a run.' You've got to keep that in mind as well."Dozier understands that whether you're a Hall of Fame player or a rookie, the basic objective for a hitter with a man on third and less than two outs remains the same. Though it might go overlooked by some, the sacrifice fly is all part of a hitter's job."Hitting is tough enough as it is anyway," Dozier said. "Getting a hit in that situation is obviously a bonus, but you've got to get that runner in."Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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