Games » Oakland AthleticsApr9
How Josh Reddick changed the game
The Kansas City Star
First inning, second batter, fifth pitch — that’s when A’s right fielder Josh Reddick changed the game.
Jason Bourgeois led off the game with a double. With a runner on second and nobody out, most of the time, the batter wants to hit the ball to the right side of the infield. Hitting the ball to the right side allows the runner on second to take off immediately for third base. Hit the ball on the left side and the runner has to hold his ground until he sees if short or third fields the ball. A runner on third with less than two outs can score without benefit of a hit: Move Bourgeois over to third base and the Royals could score a run on a sacrifice fly or a grounder up the middle.
Right-handed Lorenzo Cain, the second batter of the game, was trying to hit the inside half of the ball. To prevent that, the pitcher, Tom Milone, had two choices with a righty at the plate: come inside or throw the Cain something off-speed. Either one (or a combination of both) might make Lorenzo hit the outside half of the ball, putting the ball in play on the left side of the infield and that would freeze Bourgeois on second.
Milone tried to come inside with a fastball. Cain still managed to hit the inside half and drove a fly ball to right field. The ball appeared to be deep enough to move Bourgeois over to third base, so he went back to tag up. The ball was near the right field line and that was another factor in the Royals’ favor; Josh Reddick throws right handed.
The ball would be caught on Reddick’s glove side and that meant he’d have to reposition his feet to make the throw. Repositioning his feet meant a delay and a throw without momentum. Reddick caught the ball … and then changed the game.
He came up with a beautiful throw, nailing Bourgeois as he tried to advance. A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson helped out by blocking third base with his leg. If you’re wondering about obstruction — a fielder can’t impede a runner’s progress without the ball in his possession — that’s pretty much up to the umpire. If the umpire thinks the fielder was in the act of catching the ball, the fielder is allowed to get in the runner’s way. Donaldson did, Bourgeois was out and a run did not score on the grounder Eric Hosmer hit to shortstop in the next at-bat.
The problem with baseball is you never know what the key moments are until the game is over. This game’s key moment came early.
Jason Bourgeois slid into third headfirst. Runners like to do this because it’s faster, but it also allows fielders to block bases. Come in spikes first and fielders aren’t so quick to drop a knee.
It’s unfair to play the game we all like to play — reasoning that if Bourgeois is safe he scores on Eric Hosmer’s grounder. As any fan of “Star Trek” knows, you can’t change one thing in the past without setting off a string of changes. If Bourgeois is safe Milone might pitch Hosmer differently.
In the bottom of the third, Chris Getz did not move Alcides Escobar over to third base after Esky’s leadoff double. Getz needs to get this kind of thing done — it’s one of the reasons he’s on the team.
Same with Tim Collins: he was brought in to face Daric Barton, a lefty. Collins walked him. Left-handed relievers need to throw strikes to left-handed hitters—it’s why they’re on the team.
Apparently, rookie Yoenis Cespedes tried to shake hands with Brayan Pena during the game. Brayan told him they don’t do that in the major leagues. (Although, now that I think about it, how would the broadcast team know that before the game was over?) Anyway, watch a hitter come to the plate for the first time and, if he’s friendly with the catcher, he’ll tap the catrcher’s shin guard with the bat. It’s how major leaguers say hi.
Chris Getz took a chance on a tough grounder, flipping an off-balance throw to Eric Hosmer. The throw was wide, but Hosmer was able to knock it down. This is a good thing: if a first baseman is bad, infielders will not attempt difficult throws—too much chance they wind up in the dugout. If a first baseman is good, infielders feel free to attempt difficult throws which might result in an unexpected out. Hosmer’s good.
Eris Hosmer was thrown out trying to steal third and Jeff Francoeur was thrown out trying to steal second. These were called “base-running mistakes.” Well, maybe. The Royals use math to steal bases. They know how fast the runners can cover ground so they compare that time to the combined time of a pitcher delivering the ball to the plate and a catcher delivering the ball to a base. If the runner’s number is lower than the pitcher and catcher’s combined time, the runner can go.
But a catcher who throws the ball to second in 2.0 seconds is considered average and a catcher who makes the same throw in 1.9 seconds is considered very quick, so there’s not a lot of room for error. Every tenth of second is worth just over two feet in a runner’s progress. Get a bad jump and you’re out. If the catcher gets a bad grip on the ball, you’re safe.
Frenchy’s out might be called a mistake: He broke for second and the left-handed pitcher, Tom Milone, threw to first. Base-running coach Doug Sisson has told me the Royals do not gamble and go on the first movement from a lefty (a common technique). If a base stealer gets thrown out, Doug believes the throw ought to come from the catcher.
The Royals have decided to be aggressive on the bases — that philosophy has already paid off in numerous ways. Nobody wants to see a runner thrown out, but when it happens it’s not always a mistake — it might just be the cost of doing business.
Having done it for over 500 games I can tell you coaching third base is not an easy job. Deciding when to send a runner home on a close play requires a lot of information: What inning are we in? What’s the score? How many outs are there? Who’s the runner? Who’s on deck? Is it possible that the manager will pinch hit for the on-deck hitter? Who is warming up in the other team’s bullpen? How good is the outfielder’s arm? Is he moving laterally or toward home plate? Is the throw coming from right field? Is the throw coming from a lefthander? How well does the catcher block the plate?
If I were smarter I could probably think of more questions, but I assume you get the idea — it’s complicated. But there is one question I’d never thought of until recently: How much money does the runner make?
This comes up because of the base running blunder that had Lorenzo Cain and Billy Butler on third base at the same time in Sunday’s game. Butler was unable to score from second on a base hit to right field. Cain was apparently unaware of Billy’s lack of speed and ran up Bill’s back when he stopped at third. Lots of people had ideas for how this could be avoided in the future — one reader suggested sending Butler home and letting him run over a few catchers.
But Billy might make too much money.
Here’s what I mean: when my friend, Tim Bogar, got promoted to coaching third base for the Boston Red Sox, I asked another friend, Russ Morman, how tough coaching third in Fenway would be. Russ said the Green Monster has lots of funny quirks, and base coaches that make a mistake get roasted by the Boston media. Teams put a lot of responsibility on a third-base coach. Then Russ added, “And they don’t like it when you get a multimillion-dollar player blown up at the plate.”
Risk and reward are a part of baseball: What are you risking and what’s the reward? Risking injury to a key player to score one run might be a bad decision — unless the run is really important. So with all the other things a third base coach has to think about, add estimated income.