Thursday, June 25, 2009

What Hustle Will Do

As someone affected by the current economy, this writer is appalled by the lack of hustle the lucky few who play in the major leagues display on a nightly basis. A few posts ago here in the FanDome, the topic was Craig Monroe, a fringe player in the majors who hustled his way out of a job in MLB due to his lack of hustle. After watching the Bay Rays play the Phillies tonight, both sides of the hustling spectrum came into full view.

First, let's consider the situation the current American League Champions find themselves in. Currently six games out of first, the Bay Rays have three teams in front of them: The Red Sox, the Yankees and the Blue Jays. All three are strong teams. At this point, if they have any chance for the wildcard and the playoffs, every game matters. So one would think a sense of urgency would permeate the team. The game tonight did not show the urgency except for a young guy named Ben Zobrist.

The game with the Phillies was close. Pat Burrell put the Bay Rays ahead 2-0 with a homer against his former mates. Garza and Blanton were terrific the entire game. The Phillies drew within a run with a homer of their own. While all this was going on, Carl Crawford hit a line drive that looked like an atom ball. As such, Crawford just jogged toward first, probably thinking he was going to be out. But the outfielder misjudged the ball and it went over his head. Only then did Crawford start busting it and decided to try to leg it into a triple. He was thrown out. If he had hustled right away, he would have been there easily. To make matters worse, the next batter doubled but did not score.

Later, B. J. Upton came up and hit a flare to short right field. The replay shows Upton jogging out of the batters box and nonchalantly trotted toward first. The first basemen and the second baseman ran to get the ball but both came up short and when neither could make the catch, they both overran the ball forcing the right fielder to have to come in and pick it up. Upton didn't run until the ball dropped and fortunately made it to second. But if he busted it from the beginning, he could have been at third. He should have been at third.

Crawford then singled to shallow left and Upton had to hold at third. If he has hustled, he would have scored on the single. Aybar was up next and hit a shallow fly to left the Matt Stairs caught on the run and easily threw Upton out at the plate for a double play. So if you are keeping score, that's two opportunities in a tight game blown by lack of hustle.

But that's where Ben Zobrist comes in. Pena got hit by a pitch moving Crawford to second. Zobrist then worked a walk loading the bases. Burrell is next and was ahead 2-0 in the count. Everything was in his favor but Burrell blew it and grounded to short on an inside pitch. Zobrist busted as hard as he could toward second and when Rollins flipped to Utley, they both expected it to be the last out of the inning. But Zobrist running as hard as he could, beat the throw. Safe! The run scored making it 3-1 but he also prolonged the inning. A single and a double followed and broke the game open to 7-1.

Zobrist, who has turned out to be one of the biggest pleasant surprises of 2009, gets it. He takes nothing for granted and works hard on every play. Crawford (which is a bit surprising) and Upton don't get it. They played the game like a part of the entitlement generation and cost their team two runs.

To a displaced worker now trying his darnedest to make his new company work, Zobrist is a hero.


Anonymous said...

I remember last season when Joe Maddon benched Upton for lack of hustle, and later his teammates got on him for it after another incident. Much was made of his finally "getting it" in regard to hustling all the time. But I saw several later instances when B. J. appeared to be dogging it on the bases. However, nothing more was ever said/reported about it. Apparently he hasn't "gotten it," and I'm wondering if he ever will.

William said...

I haven't seen any evidence to support that he has, Anon, so I think you are very much on track.

Josh Borenstein said...

There's certainly a lot to be said for hustle. It's why Pete Rose was so endearing as a player - or so I've been told. Unless you're fighting an injury or you're a pitcher and you want to conserve your energy, players should always hustle to first.

Mark Teixeira is a good example of hustle. Wasn't blessed with a whole lot of speed, but I don't think I'll ever forget him scoring from first on Luis Castillo's error earlier this year.

And then, of course, there's Don Beebe. That one play of his near the endzone epitomizes hustle.