The Reds haven't won in Coors Field for two years. It looked like Thursday would be different when they jumped out to an early five-run lead off of Colorado's starter, Jason Hammel. But it was not to be as the Rockies crept back into the game as Hammel settled down and put some quality zeroes on the board. But the Rockies last at-bats had to be the most bizarre of the season.
That's a bit hyperbolic. Actually, only the last run scored was bizarre. The Rockies had tied the game off of Nick Masset in the eighth on a Tulowitzki homer. Then the Rockies had first and third with Olivo at the plate. The runner at third was little known Chris Nelson who came in to pinch run for the Rockies. Olivo said later that he was prepared to bunt on a suicide squeeze. The only problem was, Nelson didn't wait for the pitch or the bunt.
Masset was staring at his feet and was thinking about his next move which was to be one of those stupid fake to third, fake to first moves that probably works about once a century. While Masset was contemplating that move, Nelson took off. The infielders started shouting and in a strange moment of ennui, Masset turned all around and was too late to realize the play was at home. By then Nelson was already sliding head first behind the catcher and the Rockies had the lead and the ball game. What a thrilling play. To see the video, click here.
The steal proved to be the undoing for the Reds who ended up being swept in the series. Fortunately for them, the Cardinals (who did win on Thursday) have been stumbling around and have gained only a game on the Reds during the botched series.
The great play by Nelson (or the bad play by the Reds, you choose) brought to mind how little risk is often involved in Major League Baseball. When a risk is taken like Nelson's, it stands out. But there are many times when a risk could reap big rewards. The Fan was watching a game earlier in the year and noticed that the catcher had a yip when throwing the ball back to the pitcher. The Fan can't remember who the catcher was. But that happens sometimes in sports. A routine thing that players have been doing all their lives suddenly becomes a mystery. Chuck Knobloch suddenly couldn't throw to first for the Yankees. Steve Stone suddenly couldn't throw a strike. It's a mental thing that takes over. Catchers have had yips before when throwing back to the pitcher. Someone this year in the Rangers' organization had one. Was it Saltalamacchia? Could be. Sounds right.
Well, anyway, the thing is, the catcher the Fan was watching had developed a yip and took several awkward pumps before throwing it back to the pitcher. Often, the throw ended up being a lollipop throw. The Fan remembers thinking at the time: "Why doesn't the base runner see that and take off when the catcher starts doing all those double clutches?" That's the kind of risk the Fan is talking about.
Scouts and players watch video of other teams all the time. Wouldn't they notice that a certain outfielder has a penchant for throwing a rainbow lazily into second on a base hit? If so, why wouldn't a runner take a risk and take advantage of such a scenario? The Fan has often seen a pitcher decide he doesn't like a baseball he's been offered and shakes his hand to indicate a new one. If time isn't called, why wouldn't a runner take off as soon as the pitcher flips the ball?
When was the last time you've seen a first baseman make a fake throw back to the pitcher after a pick off attempt? There are a lot of different types of risks that happen in every game. But hardly any of them ever get anything but ignored. There is one player who excels at such risk and Buster Olney has a nice story on him in his lasted blog over at ESPN. He is the Tampa Bay Rays' catcher, John Jaso.
The Fan has watched Jaso in action several times and what this guy does is take off as soon as he sees the catcher hasn't caught the ball cleanly. The pitcher tries to throw a curve, a splitter or a slider and it hits the dirt. If Jaso sees that the catcher hasn't caught it cleanly, he's gone. It doesn't have to go far either. The Fan has never seen Jaso get thrown out on such a play either. Why don't more players do that? How many times do you see a catcher block a ball in the dirt with runners on base, bounce up and pounce on it and look like he's ready for a shootout at the O. K. Corral. If that was Jaso on base, the catcher would have to throw it because he'd be on his way to the next base and that catcher's throw would be late.
Far too often in baseball, the safe route is taken. Chis Nelson probably gave Jim Tracy a heart attack. But it was a calculated risk and it sure paid off in spades. The only thing safe about his move was the umpire's signal as the result of the play.