Sunday, 21 April 2013

Testing the Old Adage

You can't steal first base.

That's an old baseball truism. That saying is usually pulled out of the cliche drawer, and plugged into the conversation when a speedy young rookie comes up, swinging at everything. We hear about how fast he is, but when a player is batting under .200, he never gets a chance to show off his wheels? Why- because you can't steal first base. Once you're on first, stealing second is easiest, it's the longest throw for the catcher. Stealing third is all in the timing of the jump. Stealing home is as difficult as it is rare. Speed in baseball is a conditional threat. Unless you reach, you cannot run.

So, that's it: You can't steal first base.*

Yeah, I put that asterisk there. What fun would life be without exceptions to the rule? Even with an old axiom so obviously cut and dried, there's a way to steal first base. Not to any particular advantage, mind you, but it can still be done.

Jean Segura started this play on second, broke for third, and found himself picked off, and in a rundown. Then, he found himself standing face to face with Ryan Braun, who had also taken the opportunity to reach second base.

Then the fielder with the ball did what you should always do in this situation. Tag everybody you can, and let the umpire figure it out.
Hat tip to @gidget on Twitter
The umpire rules that Braun is out, as per the following rule:
(a) Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, two runners are touching a base, the following runner shall be out when tagged and the preceding runner is entitled to the base, unless Rule 7.03(b) applies.
(b) If a runner is forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner and two runners are touching a base to which the following runner is forced, the following runner is entitled to the base and the preceding runner shall be out when tagged or when a fielder possesses the ball and touches the base to which such preceding runner is forced.
Since Braun is not being forced to second on the pickoff, he's out by virtue of being the tailing runner. Now the funny thing is, the ball is live the whole time. If Segura is tagged while off the base, he is also out. I'm pretty sure the second glove slap from the infielder happens after he takes a step towards first, but it's a tough call. The umpire is trying to think about rule 7.03 (a), and he might not have been watching real closely for the tag there. I'm not sure I would want a replay here, because it would suck all the fun out of Segura heading back towards his dugout, then being told he should stop at first - because he's still a baserunner.

The story has more to it, of course. Courtesy of this recap from Rob Neyer. Go read it, there's another backwards base stealing tale from 1911 in there. 

The topper to the Jean Segura mix up is that he tried to steal his way back to second in the same inning, but was thrown out. Hope you were scoring at home!

What Mr. Neyer did not include in his recap was the immortal baserunning of Lloyd 'Shaker' Moseby. Captured here via YouTube clip. Shout out to @minor_leaguer and @truebluela for remembering this one.

I understand why Moseby is safe at both ends of this play. What I don't understand is why he goes back to first. The only thing I can conceive, is that he thinks the play is a fly ball, not a throw to second. Boggles the mind. In a good way, because just when you think you've seen it all.... baseball has another trick up it's sleeve.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

4-6-5-6-5-3-4 Triple Play

The Baltimore Orioles, 2012 edition, were the Team Of Destiny. They had a late inning mojo that carried them into the postseason. What do I mean when I say mojo? Well, Jayson Stark breaks down all the extra inning accomplishments in a post from last September (Bullet point 2). Adding to the extra innings accomplishments, when leading after 7 innings, they were 74-0. You could bank on the Orioles last year, when the chips were down, they came through. Those records have a lot to do with factors that are really not in the player's control. You can't really be so good you have invincible pitchers for the last 2 innings of every game, if they really existed, they wouldn't give up runs in any other innings either. Some of that run to the playoffs was built on luck.

If luck plays a part in creating favourable circumstances, it can certainly play a part in creating unfavourable ones too.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Double to CF

If you've read anything else I've written here, a couple of things should be obvious. 1) I enjoy watching a lot of baseball. 2) I value anything unexpected, anything that breaks up the rhythm of the game. It reminds me that sport, like life, can be a learning experience. The rules in baseball don't change much, but with fields, players, and field conditions changing all the time, the action on the field is always in a state of flux.
Emilio Bonifacio is new. Well, he's new to my eyes, and that's more than enough in this case. He's been playing second base in Toronto for less than a week, mostly because Brett Lawrie is injured. From the World Baseball Classic, I learned that he's a high energy player. His above average baseball tool: speed.
When he grounded a ball up the middle, he had every intention of making it to second base. Here are 2 GIF's of the play, courtesy of Matt at House of the Bluebird, showing him sprinting out of the box and then getting into second base without even being tagged.

So, on a scale of fast to FAST, Bonifacio appears to register as FAST in this real-life example.

As usual with baseball, there's another game tomorrow, and that game adds a little wrinkle to the story. The game I'm referring to doesn't even feature Emilio Bonifacio. Cleveland left Toronto, and continue their road trip in Tampa Bay. Baseball reference has play by play for every play of every game, and this one line came to my attention.
That's Yunel Escobar, who is probably only Fast on my scale of fastness. So what are the odds of another ground ball to centre field resulting in a double? I don't have a video highlight to help me out. I do, however, have twitter.

So Bourn was challenged again, and this time, he made the play. Only he didn't get credit for making the play. Why would Escobar even try to hustle a double? Hmmm, curious. Escobar, Bonifacio, and Bourn have all faced one another in the NL East in the past. When transplanting players to the AL East, did a little bit of knowledge come with them about Mr. Bourn?
I suppose only time will tell but maybe, this play it isn't about what we thought it was about.
This is not relevant, but I found it on Google. Only photo I am ever using of Micheal Bourn. Ever.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Joining the Club

Yu Darvish stands over the rubber, tired, sweating. It is the bottom of the ninth inning, at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The bases are empty. Marwin Gonzalez is at the plate. A.J. Pierzynski is squatting behind the plate, dropping down fingers as Yu looks for a pitch he wants. He is pitching this game in enemy territory, and his Rangers have scored seven runs. The crowd, resigned to a home team loss, is, strangely, on its feet in anticipation.

Darvish is trying to join a baseball fraternity. He is very, very close to being perfect. One more batter retired, and Yu Darvish will have thrown a Perfect Game.
Briefly, if you are unfamiliar with Perfect Games, they occur when a pitcher retires every batter before they can reach first base. If he does it twenty seven times, he has recorded a full games worth of outs. As long as his team has scored, the game is over, and for one night, the pitcher is perfect. Any pitcher can be perfect for one night, it has been done 23 times before.