Walk-off wins are the most exciting plays in baseball. They are what every young player dreams of and why fans stay until the last out is made.

It is the highlight every cameraman (or woman) hopes to capture and the reason every announcer hangs on the edge of their seat until the very end.

We've been fortunate to have a few walk-off wins this year and they are a wonderful feeling. It is the epitome of perseverance in baseball: pushing yourself -- and your team -- for three hours to create one special moment that decides the game.

But long before the walk-off hit is made there are plays that lead to the late-inning thriller.

It may be a diving catch to save a run or a key two-out rally that makes the difference. Often times a game can be won or lost in the first eight innings, even though the walk-off run was scored in the ninth.

We have had games this year in which the other team has had more hits than us, yet our pitchers have made "pressure pitches" to get out of jams early in the game. Those pitches that prevent runs are often overlooked yet are vital to the success of the team when the game ends.

The same goes for scoring crucial runs earlier in the game. We had a game earlier this season against Myrtle Beach (S.C.), the Class-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, where we gave up two runs in the top of the ninth, then scored three in the bottom of the ninth to win in a walk-off.

It was clutch hitting and commitment to a quality approach that gave Keury De La Cruz a chance to hit a double in the gap. That situation wouldn't have been possible without the crucial four runs we scored in the seventh inning to tie the game, yet those are often overlooked.

I can't think of a better example of delayed gratification than a walk-off win. The runs scored (or runs prevented) in innings one through eight could be the difference between tying it in the ninth or falling one run short. It could be the difference between a dog pile celebration with a standing ovation from the crowd, or a 13-inning heartbreaker.

This is true for a season as well.

Victories in April or May are just as valuable as those in September. When other teams are pressing to make the playoffs with late-season wins, you have won early in the year and secured your spot.

Out of a 142-game minor-league season, it is just as important to win Game 1 as it is to win Game 142. Creating that sense of urgency early in the season (or early in the game) is often the greatest challenge in baseball.

Life is no different.

Decisions made today have long term impacts on what tomorrow will bring.

From preparing well for meetings and developing good networks, to being responsible with your credit card(s) and not over-spending, these decisions can have significant impacts on your life.

While we live for today, we must learn from yesterday and prepare for tomorrow.

No matter if it is the first inning or the ninth, play and live each moment as if it is your last.

McCarthy is a former CSUB pitcher who now plays for the Salem (Va.) Red Sox, the Class-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. His column runs Sundays throughout the baseball season. He can be reached at