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April 24, 2013
The Lineup Card
11 Favorite Baserunning Memories
1. Dave Roberts' Steal
I went back and watched it. The FOX broadcast opened the inning with a shot of Mariano Rivera warming up. Amazingly, they then switched to a Red Sox fan in the crowd waving a sign that said “I Still Believe.” “Believe” was underlined, in case you doubted his sincerity. Then FOX showed a graphic called “Series Summary.” It stated the following facts:
Watching this, I’m reminded that the Red Sox weren’t about to lose; they were about to be crushed. The combined score of the previous three games was 32-16. That Boston was down 4-3 was almost a victory in itself.
FOX, ever trying to drum up interest (as if this moment needed PR), put up another graphic: Mariano Rivera had blown seven of 22 saves against the Red Sox since 2001, and 14 of 170 against the rest of baseball. So you’re saying there’s a chance!
In steps Kevin Millar. Boy is he clean-shaven! Millar takes ball one inside, and it’s all coming back to me. Pacing in my apartment, watching with the window open, freezing midnight air streaming into the room, because of some odd superstition. Sweating, simultaneously unable to look and unable to look away. How important is this moment? Even Manny Ramirez is paying attention!
On a 3-1 count Millar takes his fourth ball, all inside and none particularly close. He barely makes it to first base before Roberts replaces him. Joe Buck says of Roberts, “He can run.” This is either a succinct and minimalist way of describing his speed or an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for “Least Descriptive Description.”
Here’s what happens next:
Rivera throws over.
Rivera throws over.
Rivera throws over.
Rivera starts his motion. Roberts goes. No hesitation; he’s off on first movement. The pitch is, as was every pitch to Millar, high and in to the right-handed batters box. It was almost a pitchout. Catcher Jorge Posada caught it perfectly and drilled a line to second. Posada isn’t known for his defensive prowess, but his catch and throw here were textbook. Jeter caught the throw just to the left of second base and slammed the tag down into the dirt in front of the bag.
There are so many incredible things about this moment. An almost perfect pitch to throw on, an almost perfect throw, and a perfect catch and tag, and Roberts beat it to the bag by milliseconds. On replay he’s clearly safe. Watching live? Umpires are trained to get that one right, but I’ve seen many miss plays that close. Joe West was umpiring at second base that day, and to his eternal credit, he didn’t miss it. He spreads his arms out. Safe. The crowd erupts. Jumping, yelling, screaming. There’s probably music playing, but you can’t hear it. It’s not quite to the level they would a moment later when Bill Mueller singled up the middle and Roberts sprinted home to tie the game, but still, an eruption.
At this point, FOX shows someone jumping up and down waving a sign that reads “The Greatest Comeback in Sports History.” And it couldn’t have happened without Dave Roberts stealing second. —Matthew Kory
2. Herb Washington Gets Picked Off in the 1974 World Series
The Athletics won the next three games to capture their third straight World Series, and Washington had himself a World Series ring. As an aside, I saw Washington a few years later at a McDonald’s in Boardman, Ohio. He became a successful businessman, owning several of the fast food restaurants in the Youngstown/Cleveland area. I didn’t ask him about the pickoff. I already knew his pain and didn’t have the salve of a World Series ring. —John Perrotto
3. Emmanuel Burriss Assists a Home Run
So, if Burriss wasn't going to hit another homer himself, how else could he partake in the act of one? Then-second-year Giants manager Bruce Bochy got creative on September 26, 2008, when Bengie Molina sent a high fly just over the bricks and into the metal top portion of the right-field wall at AT&T Park. Although the ground rules state that any ball that reaches the metal is a home run, the umpiring crew initially ruled Molina's hit a ball in play, and the slow-footed catcher only made it to first base. Since Molina represented the tying run in the bottom of the sixth inning of a game the Dodgers led 2-0, Bochy chose to pinch-run for him, and he elected to use the fleet-footed Burriss.
But here's the key: Bochy made the move to swap Burriss for Molina before the umpires reviewed the play. And when the crew returned and umpire Tim Welke changed the call to a home run, Burriss earned his second career trot—well, three-fourths of a trot—around the bases as the back runner, this time without hitting a ball over a fence. Molina got credit for the homer, but Burriss was awarded a run scored, all thanks—as beat writer Chris Haft noted in his story—to Omar Vizquel's "bionic ears."
"I'll take it," Burriss said of the free trot and run. Now off to an 0-for-18 start for the Reds' Triple-A affiliate in Louisville, he might be hard-pressed to partake in a big-league homer again. —Daniel Rathman
4. Ruben Rivera is the Worst Baserunner Ever
And always Rivera is running the bases. You have a specific image in your mind, and we'll get to that, but first there is my personal favorite. On June 30, 1998, at Oakland Coliseum, the Padres entered the ninth inning down, 12-8. With the bases loaded and two out, Wally Joyner singled up the middle off Mike Fetters to drive home two and cut the lead to 10-8. Bruce Bochy then pulled Joyner for Rivera. With the count 2-2 to Mark Sweeney, Fetters did the now-illegal fake-to-third, throw-to-first move that never works. Only it worked, and Rivera was picked off to end the game.
But you didn't come here for that. You came for the video of that other play, for which there are no words beyond what the incomparable Jon Miller—who, presumably, has seen it all—offers as he watches in shock with the rest of us:
5. Gravity: 1 Jack Cust: 0
This is not to take away anything from the call. After the play-by-play was calmly handled on a home broadcast team that we presumed had to watch its collective self, Buck Martinez took the hysteria from 0 to 60 in about no seconds.
6. Michael Morse's Reverse Grand Slam
One runner scored, but the other runners only advanced one base even as Morse headed for second. As the ball got back to the infield, Morse sprinted back to first but was tagged out. He and the Nationals asked the umpires to review whether the ball went over the fence or not. After looking at replays, the umpires determined that the ball, in fact, left the yard and was good for a home run.
Then it got strange. Morse, who had been waiting at first base during the review, took off around the bases and rounded second, with Adam LaRoche a few feet in front of him and Ryan Zimmerman still waiting on third. But then the umpires told the runners to stop and retreat to their original bases, as the broadcasters tried to explain what was happening.
Bob Carpenter: I think they’re trying to determine, did any runners pass each other on the bases?
So off Morse went around second base and back to first. But that wasn’t enough, the umps said, and they sent The Beast all the way back to home plate. They made Bryce Harper, who’d scored on the play, come back and stand at third.
And then it happened. I’ll let Morse explain:
“I was like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ So I look over to the dugout and everyone told me to swing and I was, like, ‘I’m not going to swing.’ But then [Yadier Molina] goes ‘Swing! Swing!’ I was, like, ‘All right!’ So I swung. And it was pretty cool. It felt like spring training.
View for yourself.
7. The "Other" Dave Roberts Forgets to Run the Bases
Roberts was the last man on the bench, pinch-hitting in a game that seemed lost in a series that had once been in the bag. Roberts’ Astros had led the best-of-five series 2-0, but nearly three games later were one out away from elimination. Jerry Reuss had gone the distance—outdueling future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan—and went from one strike away to one out away on Roberts. And then…strike three. Game Over.
Except the ball got past Mike Scioscia.
I was 10 years old when this happened. At this point in my life, baseball was relatively new, and I didn’t understand why the dropped called third strike rule existed. Every time I saw this play unfold, the ball bounced in front of the catcher, the batter scrambled to first, and the catcher threw out the batter by a few feet at the most. It seemed like a stupid rule.
But not this time. The ball just kept rolling and rolling and rolling. Scioscia turned around and ran like a demon behind home plate, but the ball just kept rolling. It seemed like seconds had passed before Scioscia got to the ball. Roberts would make it to first easily.
Except Roberts didn’t run to first. He didn’t see Scioscia drop the ball. He started walking back to the Astros dugout: dejected, upset, his head down. Because his head was down, he didn’t see his teammates in the dugout yelling and screaming, imploring him to run to first, because unlike nearly every other time the catcher dropped strike three, this time the runner had a fighting chance.
Finally, Roberts looked up. In an instant, he figured out what was happening. He took off to first from somewhere near the batter’s box. As Roberts was getting there, Scioscia fired a strike to Steve Garvey. Roberts dove into the bag, and the throw barely beat him, even with the head start Roberts had accidentally given Scioscia. Game over, for real this time.
Chances are good that if Roberts had run the Astros still would have lost the game. They were four runs down and hadn’t had any luck against Reuss all day. But that moment remains one of the most exciting plays I have ever seen, even though it was mostly a series of miscues: a strike three that almost wasn’t combined with a batter who, for a brief moment, forgot to run the bases like he was supposed to do.—Mike Gianella
Fielder, in his 1,097 career game, finally did it. Greg Myers' throw looked true enough, and Pat Meares seemed to apply the tag, but the speedless man used the gifts and grifts he was given by God, and just knocked the stupid ball out of his glove. Intentional or accidental, that's how he earned his first stolen base. And it had to be that. An errant throw or a bad exchange would have been something interesting but ill-fitting. Cecil stole a base using brute force. Imagine if he would have learned this years ago.
And the ovation! Minnesota Twins fans were losing the game and they applauded him for the achievement. It gave hope to a nation: You can do anything you want—even stuff you are terrible at—although it may take years. —Matt Sussman
9. Albert Pujols Channels Willie "Mays" Hayes
So while it's not an exact case of life replicating art (if you can call it art), Albert Pujols decided to channel his own Willie "Mays" Hayes on May 8, 2008. With the Cardinals and Rockies tied in the ninth inning, Pujols took off on contact as Rick Ankiel grounded out to Rockies second baseman Jonathan Herrera. Only, he didn't stop at third—he raced home to barely score the go-ahead run. Unfortunately, the excitement of this event was muted slightly by the fact that it was in the top of the ninth inning, so there was no walk-off moment. I have always held the belief that if it had been the bottom of the ninth and the game had ended right there, we all would have seen Charlie Sheen get punched in the face again.
However, almost as interesting as the rarity that occurred on the field was this snippet from the game write-up at CBS: "Part of the reason Pujols took the chance was because crafty left-hander Brian Fuentes was on the mound. Runs come at a premium against Fuentes. 'He's pretty much one of the best in the game right now,' Pujols said. 'To see the ball off his hand, it's pretty tough. You need to take the chance.'" So yes, this serves as a reminder that we once lived in a world where Albert Pujols essentially stole home in the ninth inning of a tie game because he didn’t like their chances with Troy Glaus facing Brian Fuentes at Coors Field. —Bret Sayre
10. Marco Scutaro Steals Second on a Walk
11. Jimmy Piersall Runs the Bases Facing Backward
In 1962, Piersall hit his 100th career home run while playing for the Mets in the Polo Grounds. As he had promised to do earlier in the year, Piersall marked the occasion by running the bases facing backwards. That is, he ran to first base and then to second, and so on, while facing the wrong direction! This really happened. There are photos of it and everything—but, very sadly, no video. Can you imagine the trot time on that home run? Piersall faced no direct reprimand for the act, but he was released by the Mets a month later (though that probably had more to do with his .194 batting average). He would play into the 1967 season with the Angels, ending his career with 104 homers, 103 of which were run while facing in the proper direction. —Larry Granillo