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Some of you may remember a play from the 2000 postseason
that generated a
lot of discussion
. It occurred near the end of Game 3 of the NL Division
Series between the Mets and the Giants. With one out in the top of the
ninth, the Giants’ Armando Rios was on second base representing the
tying run. Rich Aurilia hit a ground ball in front of Rios to
shortstop Mike Bordick. Rios lit out for third base, and was thrown
out by a wide margin.

I argued that Rios’s decision was defensible,
based on the difficulty of
the play and the risks and rewards involved
. Many, including some people on
staff here at BP, disagreed with me. In fact, the comment on Rios in
Baseball Prospectus 2001 references the incident.

I bring this up because in watching the Giants play last night against the
Reds, I saw a similar baserunning maneuver that has me on the other side of
the argument, wondering what the hell the guy was thinking.

The play in question occurred in the bottom of the fourth inning. The
Giants trailed 6-3, with Shawon Dunston on second base, two men out,
and Rich Aurilia at the plate. Aurilia hit a grounder to the right
of Barry Larkin that Larkin gloved in short left field. Dunston
rounded third base and stopped, but when he saw Larkin stumble upon
fielding the ball, he took off for the plate. Larkin rushed his throw home,
the ball one-hopped catcher Jason LaRue, and Dunston was safe at the
plate.

It was one of the worst baserunning decisions I’ve ever seen.

If Dunston doesn’t run, the Giants have first and third, two out, and some
guy named Bonds coming to the plate as the tying run. By going, Dunston
risked that for a shot, and not a real good one, at one run. It may have
even taken the bat out of Bonds’s hands, as Aurilia moved to second base on
the play, opening up first base for what sure looked like a
semi-intentional walk. Jeff Kent then grounded out to end the inning.

The worst part was listening to Joe Morgan completely miss the point. He
first praised Dunston for all the things for which announcers like to
praise scrappy veterans. Then, he used the play to extend a point he’d been
making about Larkin, that the shortstop’s arm isn’t particularly strong.

The problem, of course, was that the judgment exercised by Dunston was
terrible, and that Larkin not making the play had nothing to do with
arm strength, and everything to do with not setting himself for a throw.
Larkin tossed a HuckaBall(TM) 10 feet in the air while falling away from
his target… and the throw still beat the runner home by three
steps. Had he taken the half-second necessary to set himself, Dunston would
have been out by the distance between Tony Muser and competence. That’s not
about arm strength, it’s about decision-making.

But, hey, Dunston’s a hustler, and the play fit Morgan’s theme, so why let
what actually happened get in the way of the story?

Hustle is a good thing, but it has to be tempered by judgment and an
awareness of game situation. Dunston demonstrated the first, but not the
other two, and he shouldn’t be given a free ride just because he scored and
got his uniform dirty in the process.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.