â€‹1. Dave Roberts' Steal
How hard it is to steal a base in the major leagues? How about stealing a base when the season is on the line? Now up the ante. How about stealing a base when the season is on the line and everyone in the ballpark knows you’re going to try, including the pitcher and catcher? That was the task facing Dave Roberts of the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship series on October 17, 2004.
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:
- The Red Sox have led for 23 minutes this series
- The Yankees are 17-7 in clinch games under Joe Torre
- Goats can hold their breath for eight minutes underwater
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
Geoff did an outstanding job of telling the Herb Washington story in last week’s Lineup Card. So, I’ll cut to the chase when it comes to my most memorable baserunning blunder. OK, not my most memorable personal blunder. It happened in Little League and remains too painful to rehash. Let’s just say I know how Herb Washington felt in the ninth inning of Game Two of the 1974 World Series at Dodger Stadium. Joe Rudi’s two-run double off Dodgers relief ace Mike Marshall—pre-closer days, youngsters—drew the Athletics within 3-2 with none out. Manager Dick Williams sent Washington in to run for Rudi, and Gene Tenace struck out for the first out. Marshall then picked Washington off for the second out, which killed the Swingin’ A’s momentum, as Angel Mangual struck out to end the game. That enabled the Dodgers to even the series at one game each, but all’s well that ends well.
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
There weren't many ways for Emmanuel Burriss, a player with as little power as virtually anyone on a major-league roster during his time in The Show, to contribute to a home run. The compact dimensions of Great American Ball Park enabled him to hit one on August 31, 2008, but that big fly remains his only round tripper in 801 career plate appearances, over which he has logged only 15 other extra-base hits.
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
It could be argued that Ruben Rivera's endless capacity to surprise makes him the perfect ambassador for baseball. One moment he is driving a fastball into the upper deck at Veterans Stadium, the next he is flailing at pitches in the next zip code. One moment he is stealing Derek Jeter's glove, the next he is hitting .330/.451/.560 in the Mexican League and closing in on 300 minor-league homers.
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
Sure, the Ruben Rivera stupor will retain its freshness longer thanks to the great Jon Miller's call of it, but Cust's misplay was, in many ways, more memorable. It ended the game with the Orioles still down a run, the unprotected home plate calling out to Cust, who had fallen once coming around third base. After the Yankees botched their shot at him, it was a race between Cust and a trailing Aaron Boone for the uncovered plate, and gravity won.
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
It could only have happened to Michael Morse, the crowd favorite whose insane walk-up song “Take On Me” has now become a seventh-inning tradition at Nationals Park. Morse came up to bat against the Cardinals last September 30. The bases were loaded in the first inning, and Morse lined Kyle Lohse’s first pitch to right field, where it initially appeared to bounce off the wall.
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?
F.P. Santangelo: Well it’s irrelevant, because it was a home run.
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
On October 5, 1981, Dave Roberts of the Houston Astros stepped to the plate for his first and only post-season plate appearance. It was Game Five of what Sports Illustrated had awkwardly dubbed a “mini-playoff”: the precursor to today’s League Division Series that had been created out of the rubble of the 1981 player strike. If not for the mini-playoff, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds would have represented the N.L. East and N.L. West in the League Championship Series, and Roberts would have never had the opportunity to watch a playoff game unless he bought a ticket like the rest of us.
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
â€‹9. Albert Pujols Channels Willie "Mays" Hayes
Everyone is familiar with the ending of Major League, where [SPOILER ALERT] Willie "Mays" Hayes scores from second base to beat the evil Yankees on a Jack Taylor bunt base hit. I don't know why I even put the spoiler alert in there, as the movie has been out for more than 25 years now and everyone has seen it. If, for some reason, you haven't seen it, you have no right to complain when someone spoils it on the internet. The Indians go crazy, Charlie Sheen gets punched in the face, and everyone gets to make out with Rene Russo.
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
Anything can happen in sports, and as Marco Scutaro reminded us in 2009, baseball players can, on a rare occasion, revert to Little League levels of awareness. (No offense to all the active kids out there.) After drawing a walk on a 3-2 count versus Joe Blanton, Scutaro trots to first base, surreptitiously surveying the Phillies fielders. Upon noticing both middle infielders stationary, listless, and distanced from second base, Scutaro bolts, easily outracing Jimmy Rollins to the bag. You’ve heard it a thousand times, but Scutaro reminds us again of a fundamental sports doctrine: Keep your head up! —Andrew Koo
11. Jimmy Piersall Runs the Bases Facing Backward
Besides being a two-time All-Star for the 1950s Red Sox, Jimmy Piersall was known as quite a character in his time in the big leagues. Fights, ejections, foolish clowning around—the tales followed him around everywhere. To deal with some of his personal issues, Piersall sought treatment in a mental hospital in 1952 for what is now called bipolar disorder. His road back into baseball was later the subject of the book and movie Fear Strikes Out.
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