Every day in baseball, there are plays that elicit gasps from spectators. The home-run-saving leap at the wall. An outfielder leaving his feet and just grasping the ball with his glove before sliding across the grass. The diving middle infielder, gathering the ball and throwing a rocket to first. The perfectly executed catcher-to-second-base combination that results in a caught stealing. These are plays that make us say: WOW!
However, there is a subset of the WOW! plays, plays that go beyond straight athleticism into a different realm. Plays where dexterity, quick thinking, or absent-mindedness combine with fate to give us plays whose greatness is layered. Where multiple viewings bring nuances that are not visible upon initial inspection. Plays that not only make one say WOW!, but also questioningly makes one say WHAT?!? The week before the All-Star break has been rife with the What?!? Factor.
We start in Philadelphia last Thursday (July 6), where a flying bat into the stands distracted first baseman Josh Bell:
Andrew Knapp, the runner at first, quickly saw the on-target throw by Elias Diaz go all the way down the right-field line and scampered around the bases, scoring standing up. There was not much the Pirates could do, as the outfield had shifted toward left field for Andres Blanco.
On the same night in Springfield, Missouri, Randy Arozarena went all the way to third on an infield pop-up in AA Texas League action.
With Arozarena leading off the seventh against Midland Rockhounds hurler Dustin Hurlbutt, Arozarena skyed a Hurlbutt offering near the mound. With no one on base, the infield fly rule was not in effect, so a catch was necessary. But a conference was not. However, third baseman Branden Cogswell, shortstop Richie Martin, second baseman Max Schrock, and first baseman Viosergy Rosa all brought themselves to the mound area (with Hurlbutt quickly hustling his butt out of the way). Rosa attempted to make the catch but missed… and with no one covering second, Arozarena motored into second. Martin picked up the ball and moved toward second to try to cut Randy off at the pass, but Arozarena touched second and hustled into third, as Cogswell never returned to his position. While only Rosa was charged with an error (for missing the catch), the whole infield could have been charged due to their lack of situational awareness.
A few days earlier in Milwaukee, Orlando Arcia made a creative fix to a base-running error:
Orlando Arcia with shades of Benny the Jet. pic.twitter.com/JaRfcIUmM4
— MLB (@MLB) July 3, 2017
In the bottom of the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles on July 3, Orlando Arcia was on first after lining a single against Jimmy Yacabonis. Brent Suter followed with a slow ground ball to shortstop Ruben Tejeda, who threw to first baseman Trey Mancini too late to get the swift Suter. Arcia, who never let up on his run as Tejeda tossed to first, was motoring into third as Mancini whipped the ball across the diamond to Manny Machado at third. The throw was too late, but Arcia slid off the bag.
Up until this point, the play was, in relative terms, normal. However, let us set the scrum at third base as Arcia slid off the bag.
Brewers: Arcia is off the bag figuring out how to break out of jail and away from third-base coach Ed Sedar, who is attempting to not affect the play that has gone into his coaching box.
Orioles: Third Baseman Manny Machado has the ball and is about to attempt another tag of Arcia. Catcher Wellington Castillo has properly followed the play and moved up the third baseline to backup the throw from Mancini.
Umpires: Eric Cooper, the third base umpire, is in the middle trying to get the call right AND not get in the way.
Arcia quickly gets up and realizes his only hope is to go home, and uses the pick set unwittingly by Cooper to start toward home. Machado starts running towards home where there is no one currently covering, avoiding both Sedar and his own teammate, and eventually throws to the pitcher, who finally gets into position covering home.
Two notes before we finish this play. There have been some questions asked about third-base coach Ed Sedar and his position in obstructing the play. However, as we reviewed earlier in the year, even if Sedar had bumped into Machado, the umpire would have had to deem the bump as intentional for any penalties to occur. However, since Sedar effectively avoided any actual interference with any Oriole, obstruction could not be called. And, at this point in the play, the only “error” by either team is Arcia’s in sliding off the bag.
Then, the O’s botched the pickle. Yacabonis did not run Arcia back far enough toward Machado, flipping the ball back to Machado as if it was a hot potato. Machado didn’t have much choice but to throw back to home as soon as he got the ball, firing the ball toward Castillo AND Tejeda (with first baseman Mancini also in the picture). Tejeda caught the ball, but couldn’t tag Arcia as Castillo blocked him from the plate.
Later that night, Dustin Pedroia might have made the defensive play of the year in Texas:
In the bottom of the ninth, with the game suddenly tied at five after Mike Napoli took Craig Kimbrel deep, Carlos Gomez topped another Kimbrel pitch toward third base. Deven Marrero grabbed the bounding ball with his bare hand and whipped it to Mitch Moreland, but the ball was up the line and toward the camera well. Gomez quickly took a turn toward second… but the instinctive move backfired.
The ball bounced off the Texas brick and caromed back toward the outfield where Pedroia was already stationed, having been moving toward the baseline to backup the play as soon as the ball was hit. His sound fundamentals were instrumental to the play, but it was his quick reflexes that got the out.
With Gomez quickly reversing course and going back to first, Pedroia dove for the ball, caught it in his throwing hand and flipped the ball quickly to Mitch Moreland at first, seemingly in one motion. Moreland, who had started to go after the ball before seeing Pedroia in perfect position, got back near the bag and in position to tag Gomez on the shoulder for the first out of the inning. Gomez could only go back to the dugout muttering “What?!?” as he did everything properly, but was still hung out to dry.
Featured Image courtesy of NESN.