Baseball history is filled with memorable moments and incredible feats of both athleticism and unbelievable skill. Almost every night, there is some play that makes fans think “I cannot believe what I just saw!” – either in the big leagues, or at some rung on the minor league level. On the two-year anniversary of the “Little League Los Angeles Dodgers” play, Dave McCullough discusses the play in question and Vin Scully’s reaction.
“Holy mackerel. That’s embarrassing.”
Those are the words of broadcaster and baseball legend Vin Scully, describing what he just saw in a game against the San Diego Padres nearly two years ago on September 8, 2014. Scully’s Los Angeles Dodgers are leading the San Diego Padres 8-1. The Padres are en route to a last place finish while the Dodgers are headed to a division title and a playoff appearance. With one down in 6th inning, Yangervis Solarte is at second base and Rymer Liriano is at first. Catcher Rene Rivera is at the plate, facing the Dodgers ace – Clayton Kershaw.
In case that set-up isn’t clear enough: this is an entirely normal game between division rivals who play each other 18 times a season. Nothing out of the ordinary is happening. Then – while no one was looking – the Dodgers somehow secretly switched uniforms with a little league team, and this happened:
Rivera hits a routine fly ball to shallow centerfield. The Dodgers centerfielder, Yaisel Puig, tracks it, chases it toward second base, and snags it for the second out of the inning. He keeps running, feigns tossing the ball to the second baseman – who is at this point less than 50 feet away – and then all hell breaks loose. Puig glances toward first base and sees that Liriano is not standing on the bag. The Dodgers centerfielder is running full bore toward the infield – aimed between second base and shortstop – but he he attempts to make the throw to first without slowing, turning his hips toward the target, or planting his feet.
The result is a looping throw that arrives at first base at the same time as Liriano. Former Gold Glove winning first baseman Adrian Gonzalez makes the stretch, but the retreating Liriano affects his ability to see the throw, which flies past the first baseman and toward the dugout. The ball ricochets off the fence, and rebounds toward the field.
However, catcher A.J. Ellis has followed the play perfectly, backing up the bag, and is in position to collect the errant throw by Puig. Meanwhile, Solarte has dashed away from second toward third, and Liriano is scampering for second. Ellis sets his feet, takes a quick hop step to power his throw, and unleashes the ball to second base.
Dee Gordon, the Dodgers second baseman, is planted on the bag as Liriano races toward him. But the throw from Ellis is almost too good – it is low enough to make applying a tag easy, and it is to the inside of the bag, deftly finding the target Gordon has set. However – as is his right, according to the rule – Liriano has established his path, a step or two toward the outfield. As Liriano makes the slight bend toward the bag, the throw arrives, and the confluence of runner and throw are enough to momentarily obscure Gordon’s vision. The ball skips past the Dodgers second baseman as the Padres runner slides in safely.
Solarte is now motoring around third base and heading for home. In short left center field, shortstop Hanley Ramirez has been lingering since chasing the short fly Puig corralled to start this fiasco. As Ellis’s errant throw rolls into left center, Ramirez sees Solarte racing toward the plate. The shortstop collects the ball, turns his hips, takes several hop steps for power – and unleashes a throw that is nowhere near the plate. It is at this point that Scully utters an expletive-without-profanity: “Are you kidding me?”
No, Mr. Scully, they are not kidding. But the horror is almost over.
Three throwing errors deep, it is easy to chalk this up to an unmitigated disaster. But this play has literally so much to see and appreciate, it took me 10 or 15 viewings to notice the greatest detail in this masterpiece of malarkey: watch the Cy Young winner lay out to try and stop Ramirez’s errant throw from getting past him:
Granted, the eventual MVP and Cy Young winner stumbles before he can get to the throw, but cut him some slack: he’s the best pitcher in baseball – not a utility infielder. Notice that the sage veteran catcher Ellis knows his athletic limitations and doesn’t even move: I imagine his internal monologue being something akin to this. Graceful dive or not, Kershaw is desperately trying to end this comedy of errors. But despite his best effort, the ball flies past him to the backstop where it does not bounce back toward the field. However, Ellis is quickly on its trail as Kershaw scrambles to his feet – because Liriano (who started this play on first base) is coming home.
Ellis delivers an accurate throw to his battery mate, who is close – but not close enough. Liriano is safe and the Padres have scored two runs on a routine fly ball to short center field and three throwing errors, making the score 9-3 Dodgers in the 6th. San Diego would go on to lose this game 9-4. Kershaw recorded his 18th victory of the season and lowered his ERA to 1.67 on the season, en route to the Cy Young and MVP awards. Buried in the middle innings of a routine game, on a routine flyball, the best player in his league proved his desire to win and his teammates made a baseball legend utter the phrase “are you kidding me?” on a random Monday night.
Vin Scully has seen a lot of baseball: He’s been the voice of the Dodgers for 67 years. He is the epitome of professionalism and propriety behind the microphone. For several generations of baseball fans, Scully is a national treasure and the voice who made us love the game even more. And on this play, the Little League antics of his beloved Dodgers brought him closer to an outburst than any other. That “are you kidding?” is peak Scully – effortlessly explaining the action until the action became too absurd for words. Baseball is such a weird, wonderful game.