Checking Out: Buchholz Fails to Back-Up

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Clay Buchholz think

Mistakes happen, but not all mistakes are created equal. Rick Rowand explains why when pitcher Clay Buchholz fails to cover home plate after a double in a game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, it is not only problematic, but is a cardinal sin for baseball players.

Every player in baseball makes physical errors. They are expected – indeed, they are inevitable.

Not every player makes mental errors. Those are not expected. Mental errors are sins of omission that allow the other team’s baserunners to advance the extra base, extend the inning or, worst case scenario, score a run when they otherwise wouldn’t have.

As they are unnecessary, so are they inexcusable.

As fans, we have the right to mentally check out of games. Most of us are watching on TV or from a mobile device and, well, stuff happens. Little Johnny makes the same discovery that you did thirty years ago: Sheets do not make good parachutes. Not even the fitted ones. Time to play Mom or Dad.  And when you’re at the game you need to make beer and concession runs. Take trips to the bathroom. See if you’re on Kiss Cam.

Baseball players don’t have the same luxury, but many have tuned out at one time or another. Manny being Manny, so the saying goes.

There was a perfect example of this last night. Buchholz, perhaps distracted by the Napoli error that allowed McCann to reach first, decides that, “Aw, heck, I think the guy’s gonna score anyway, so why bother to make the effort and back up the catcher like I’m supposed to and have done all of my baseball life just because A-Rod crushes a double to left center. I’ll just stay here by the mound so I don’t have to walk as far to make the next pitch.”

In the video, you can see Buchholz standing around and then ducking down to the 3B side of the mound as the ball is relayed home.

It’s pretty easy to figure out that he’s in the wrong place because he has to duck out of the way of the throw – the act of ducking is pretty much the gold standard of acknowledging that one is in the way.  Where he’s supposed to be on that play – something he must have done literally hundreds of times in practices and games – is behind the plate backing up the catcher, not standing in the infield getting in the way of the players actually doing their jobs.

With runners on and a ball hit to that part of the park, the pitcher is supposed to head over to the foul area past the 3B line. Once he sees where the throw is going, he either stays in that area to back up a throw to third or he runs to back up the catcher.

Pretty simple, right? Buchholz had two options. He went with the third.

Luckily, it was a good throw, Hanigan fielded it cleanly, and the ball didn’t get away from him on the attempted tag of McCann. Because neither of those things happened, A-Rod stayed at second. If either of those had happened with Buchholz looking for four leaf clovers by the pitchers mound, A-Rod is standing at third asking Sandoval how he likes playing in the AL East. In the end, where A-Rod ended up didn’t matter because he scored on the HR by the next batter, Chase Headley.

But that is entirely beside the point.

Clay, we all know you are going to make mistakes and give up hits and runs. We can forget and forgive those. We all know you’re going to make errors trying to field batted balls. We can forget and forgive those. Comes with the territory and all.

One thing we won’t forgive is you checking out of the game and making mental errors. For a player, a baseball game is like the Roach Motel – once you check in, you can’t check out.


Follow Rick on Twitter at @rrowand.

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