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November 2, 2009

On the Beat

Double Your Pleasure

by John Perrotto

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Everyone has seen variations of the double steal. Runners on first and third, the runner from first breaks for second, the catcher throws to second and the runner from third takes off for home and scores. Or runners on first and second and both advance a base on the same pitch.

Then there was Johnny Damon's double steal on Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park. This wasn't just any double steal. It was a one-man double steal. Damon pulled off the mean feat of stealing two bases on one pitch, helping to spark a three-run rally in the ninth inning that gave the Yankees a 7-4 victory over the Phillies in Game Four of the World Series and put them within one victory of their 27th championship.

The Yankees hold a 3-1 series lead and can close it out tonight on the home field of the defending champions when A.J. Burnett starts Game Five against Cliff Lee. "I'm just glad that when I started running I still had some of my young legs behind me," the 35-year-old Damon said with a smile.

Damon needed not only young legs, but also the experience of a 15-year veteran to steal two bases at once. Damon stepped to the plate with two outs, no one on base and the scored tied at 4-4. He battled Phillies closer Brad Lidge, who had not allowed a run in the postseason, for nine pitches before climbing out of a 0-2 hole to slice a full-count fastball into left field for a single.

"I kept chasing that slider down and I was able to force it to 3-2, and then I kept sitting slider and he kept throwing the fastball," Damon said. "They really don't teach you to do it that way. They normally always tell you to look fastball because if you look slider it would be too tough to catch up to a fastball. But I felt his slider made me look silly on a couple of pitches, so I kept sitting slider and just reacting to the fastball. So after the third 3-2 count, he threw three fastballs and fortunately I got enough of it to get it over the shortstop."

Damon showed some moxie in the batter's box but it was nothing compared to the instincts he showed on the bases once switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira stepped to the plate. The Phillies, as they have done throughout the series when Teixeira has batted from the left side, employed an infield shift with shortstop Jimmy Rollins positioned on the right side of second base and third baseman Pedro Feliz playing behind the second base bag.

Damon took off on the first pitch to Teixeira and beat catcher Carlos Ruiz's throw to second base. However, Damon didn't stop when he saw third base was uncovered, since Feliz had been forced to take the throw at second because of the shift. Damon coasted into third, as neither Ruiz nor Lidge covered the base.

"Evidently there was some miscommunication there," perturbed Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That's the first time we've had it happen to us this year, but somebody has got to be covering third base. Usually it's the catcher who tries to get down there."

One pitch, two steals, and that was all for Lidge, as he fell apart after that. He hit Teixeira with a pitch and Alex Rodriguez followed with a Damon-scoring double to put the Yankees ahead 5-4, and then Jorge Posada singled home another two runs. Mariano Rivera needed just eight pitches to set the Phillies down in order in the bottom of the ninth.

Now the Phillies will need to become the first team since the 1985 Royals to overcome a 3-1 deficit in order to become the first National League team since the 1975-76 Reds to repeat as World Series champions. Furthermore, they would have to win the final two games in New York.

Damon said he had thought about trying the two-steals-at-once trick throughout the season while hitting in the second spot in the Yankees' order, directly in front of Teixeira, who usually sees the infield shift. However, Damon never felt the timing was quite right until the ninth inning Sunday night.

"I know I still have some decent speed in the tank and I also know Pedro's speed," Damon said, referring to the lead-footed Feliz. "I mean, if it was (Angels third baseman) Chone Figgins, that might have been tough. I just went on instinct, and fortunately it worked out."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi was certainly glad it did. "You'd better be sure you're going to make it because you've got Tex and A-Rod up behind you," Girardi said. "It was just a great instinctual play by Johnny Damon."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Related Content:  Johnny Damon

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

sjd0378
(555)

Arod's double only scored Damon to make the score 5-4. Posada's single scored Teixeira and ARod for two runs to make it 7-4.

Nov 02, 2009 09:06 AM
rating: 0
 
Tank
(989)

That was one of the best plays I think I've seen in the WS. Great stuff. These games have been fun.

Nov 02, 2009 09:20 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Other sources (Rollins and Lidge) thought it was Lidge's job to cover third base, so I wonder why Manuel isn't on the same page as his infield. Either way, a really smart play.

Nov 02, 2009 09:35 AM
rating: 0
 
frampton
(870)

It's a pretty unique set of circumstances -- Manuel was probably thinking it analagous to a bunt that the third baseman fields with a runner on first, when the catcher is supposed to break to third.

For all the fielders, it seems fairly counterintuitive. I can't think of any other situation in which the pitcher covers a base other than first (as opposed to backing up). Maybe Rollins should have taken the throw from the catcher? Maybe next spring there will be a new drill during PFP . . .

Nov 02, 2009 10:39 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Pitchers do cover the plate sometimes on bunt plays if there's a runner on third and the bunt ends up in no-man's land between the catcher and first base. But in general, you are right in that the pitcher rarely covers a base (besides a rundown).

That brings up another question though. Usually when there's a shift, the entire infield moves. Why not keep Rollins at his normal shortstop position and just move Feliz over to the right side of the infield. Not many teams seem to do this.

Nov 02, 2009 17:49 PM
rating: 0
 
frampton
(870)

The pitcher covers home as well on a wild pitch, but I can't think of a situation other than a rundown when he covers second or third.

I know I saw some team that moved the third baseman to the shortstop's left, but I'm blanking on who it was -- the Nationals maybe?

I do think that the other way to do this is to have the shortstop (or the guy on the rightfield side of second) take the throw, so the whole left side isn't open.

Nov 02, 2009 19:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Ray Whatley
(267)

At the game end press conference, Manuel said it was the the shortstop's job (Jimmy Rollins?)to cover 3rd base in that situation.

Nov 02, 2009 22:03 PM
rating: 0
 
Ray Whatley
(267)

At the press conference after the game, Manuel said it was the shortstop's job (Rollins?) to cover 3rd base in that situation.

Nov 02, 2009 22:05 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

This is what I get for heading for bed when they brought in Lidge. I mean, I expected the game to end in that top half of the inning, but I didn't expect to miss such an unusual play.

Nov 02, 2009 09:45 AM
rating: 1
 
pgaskill

What isn't usually mentioned, and isn't mentioned in this article, is that Feliz was pulled off the bag *in the direction of first base* by the throw. *This* is the only thing that made it possible for Damon to get up and run toward third without immediately being tagged by Feliz: Feliz was a few feet off the bag, in the wrong direction. If Feliz had been hovering, standing, or falling over Damon like, what, 90% of stolen-base attempts end up, then Damon wouldn't have been able to pull this off. In other words: nobody covering third; nobody even on the left side of the infield; and the only guy who *had* been (barely) on the left side when the pitch was thrown is now on the *right* side of the infield, and with his momentum going in the wrong direction to boot.

But somebody sure shoulda been covering third. Team error.

Nov 02, 2009 11:24 AM
rating: 2
 
BurrRutledge

It is fascinating. What an unusual play.

However, if we look at a more commonplace stolen base circumstance, wouldn't a shortstop also end up on the 1st base side of the bag as the play ends? He won't catch (m)any runners if his glove is over on the third base side, after all. And his momentum would seem to take him that way as he comes out of his tag, if his body wasn't already over there.

In watching the replays, what I find unusual (and perhaps equally damning) is that Feliz didn't even attempt a tag. If he had at least been attempting a tag, then he would have kept closer to Damon than he actually did, or at least redivert some of his momentum, and he would have been watching Damon more closely before he started to run for third.

Nov 02, 2009 12:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think Feliz was off-balance, and of course, not expecting either the wild throw (while fielding out of position), nor Damon's attempt.

The catcher's throw was offline, but that being said, it was not a completely wild throw. If Damon had hesitated even a second, he wouldn't have been able to take off for third base.

Nov 02, 2009 17:46 PM
rating: 0
 
Bob

That was the play of the postseason so far, as far as I am concerned. I'm sure we'll get a column from Joe Sheehan at some point this afternoon explaining why, actually, it wasn't that great of a play, :) but it was thrilling, heads-up, classic-in-the-making baseball.

Funny thing is, I had just watched the highlights from the 1982 World Series earlier that day. No one exactly stole two bases in a row but Ozzie Smith came close: on a deep fly, he advanced from second to home, without hesitation, on a sacrifice fly.

Nov 02, 2009 11:29 AM
rating: 0
 
jtrichey

It was a very interesting and entertaining play to be sure, BUT, in my mind, it had nothing to do with the outcome of the game.

Nov 02, 2009 12:09 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

Since it didn't actually score the winning run, it can't be directly responsible for the result of the game. However, I give some credence to the possibility that this play broke Lidge's already-shaky psyche.

Nov 02, 2009 12:22 PM
rating: 2
 
eighteen

Damon on 3d took away Lidge's slider in the dirt. When a mediocre pitcher has to worry about throwing his best pitch, that has a huge impact.

Nov 02, 2009 15:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Along those lines, with a runner on third and no out, as opposed to a runner on first and no out, pitchers tend to attack hitters in different fashions so that they don't give up a flyball and try to induce a double play. The outfield defense also changes its configuration.

Then, as BurrRutledge said, if you factor in Lidge's psyche, who gave up a home run to Pujols in 2004 and subsequently, had problems closing in 2005 and it is fair to suggest that the double steal was a factor which changed the makeup of that particular inning.

Nov 02, 2009 17:45 PM
rating: 0
 
jtrichey

Yeah, but there were 2 outs, not 0 outs. Now, everyone is claiming a runner on 3rd takes away Lidge's slider, but does anyone really believe that? Is it common knowledge that pitchers don't throw balls in the dirt with a runner on 3rd? No, it is not. In fact, I am quite sure that pitchers throw balls in the dirt with runners on 3rd all the time. So I am calling BS on that bit of wisdom. Announcers have been talking about the Phillie pitchers trust in Ruiz in those situations all post season long by the way.

Nov 02, 2009 19:38 PM
rating: 1
 
Ray Whatley
(267)

Other sources (Rollins and Lidge) thought it was Lidge's job to cover third base, so I wonder why Manuel isn't on the same page as his infield. Either way, a really smart play.

At the press conference after the game Manuel said it was the shortstop's job (Rollins?) to cover 3rd base in that situation. I guess his overall job was to back up Feliz on the throw and then run to cover 3rd base. He's definitely fast enough to tag out Damon before he got there.

Nov 02, 2009 22:08 PM
rating: 0
 
sirscroddy

Rollins would be covering third if they were positioned normally, with Feliz charging a bunt or making a play in the hole, but not in this scenario ... he's way too far away from third and has to hold his position in case Tex hits the ball.

There is no earthly reason why Lidge couldn't safeguard third base -- pitchers back up throws regularly.

Bottom line, though -- the extreme shift is not commonly utilized, and this just may be something the defense never contemplated at all. Credit Damon for socking away this idea for an opportune moment. You can bet every team that employs a shift will now practice a defense for it.

Nov 03, 2009 07:40 AM
rating: 0
 
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