There were runners on first and second with nobody out when Desmond Jennings batted in the bottom of the 15th inning on Saturday. The game was still tied. Jennings was asked to bunt. A rundown of possible outcomes here, ranked by how proud Jennings could be afterward:
- Laid down the bunt successfully.
- Failed to lay down the bunt but got a hit anyway, ending the game.
- Failed to lay down the bunt but advanced the runners anyway, via fly ball or grounder.
- Laid down the bunt, but it’s a fielder’s choice/out at third.
- Failed to lay down bunt. Puts the ball in play but fails to advance runners.
- Failed to lay down bunt. Strikes out.
- Bunted into a double play.
- Failed to lay down bunt. Grounds into double play.
- Failed to lay down bunt. Hits into triple play.
Now, arguably the triple play would be a better indication of a job sort of done. You generally have to hit the ball hard to hit into a triple play. Some double plays are turned off hard grounders, too, so maybe we should say the most shameful outcome would be a failure to lay down the bunt, then a weak groundball back to the pitcher, who has only to spin around for an easy 1-6-3 double play. Desmond Jennings hit a weak groundball back to the pitcher, who spun around,
And then threw it away! Desmond Jennings had done the worst possible thing, but once his turn was over outside forces conspired in his favor so that the Rays won on a walk-off. Our question today: How to celebrate such an event?
There have been, since the start of 2013, 12 games that have ended on an error. There have been games that have ended on balks, on wild pitches, on passed balls, on umpire reviews. Those games are cousins of the error-enders, because the conclusive performance was by somebody not on the winning team; but they’re not what we’re talking about here. In those cases, the celebration is simple: Go mob the guy who scores. His touching of the plate represents the victorious conclusion. Just go do it. No decision needed.
A game that ends on an error is different. For one thing, it closely resembles a game that ends on a hit—to a dog, or from space, it looks identical. And when a game ends on a hit, baseball protocol dictates that we mob the hitter, not the person who scores. Why the hitter, not the runner? Who knows. Why do MVP voters lean on RBIs instead of runs scored? It’s the way it is. On the list of baseball illogics, this rates about 35 items below the “safe on a dropped third strike” rule.
The other difference is that a game-ending balk is merely a failure of the defense. A game-ending error is a failure of the offense, redeemed only by further failure of the defense. So to celebrate the batter after an error is to celebrate the person who failed. It goes beyond celebrating random good fortune to celebrating the one person on the field who did the least to to aid that good fortune. It would be weird!
So, back to the question: Desmond Jennings just sucked. WHAT DO WE DO???
May 24, 2014
Hitter: Desmond Jennings, grounded into apparent 1-6-3 double play.
Person who scores: Cole Figueroa, pinch-ran for James Loney
Best hero on the field: Probably Brandon Guyer, who reached on a bunt single to set the scene up for Jennings.
This is the Rays dugout after the run crossed home plate:
You can see the challenge here. Wil Myers hops out and immediately goes toward Jennings. Loney hop outs and immediately goes toward Figueroa. Sean Rodriguez hops out and cannot for the life of him decide. And, in the background, there’s Jennings, standing 15 feet past the first base bag. What is he doing there? Is he standing there waiting for the crowd to engulf him, lift him up and declare him a hero, or is he standing there, grumpy, ashamed, because he knows he sure spoiled the soup? He’s out of focus, so we can’t tell, but more than that: we can’t tell. This is such a screwed-up scenario that we can’t tell whether the person at the center of the action is going to slump off in horror or lift his arms up in triumphant achievement.
Now cut to Figueroa:
1. Logan Forsythe briefly picks him up—but only, it appears to fling him aside. Somebody else’s problem!
2. Yunel Escobar briefly puts a hand on his shoulder—but perhaps, it appears, in self defense. Escobar is not looking at Figueroa at all, but is celebrating something off in the distance. He does not stick around.
3. James Loney shoves Figueroa in the head, then flees.
They all flee. Figueroa puts his left hand up for a high five. Nope.
Sean Rodriguez, last seen considering Figueroa, reappears in Jennings’ frame, now unambivalent:
We're going to a party. It's a birthday party. It's your birthday party. Happy birthday Desmond. We love you very, very, very, very, very, very, very much.
Figueroa, who did exactly what he was supposed to do without screwing up, and who scored the winning run, is on the periphery of this party. He is both in the foreground, literally, and in the background, figuratively, which is sort of like a metaphor. He is quickly out of frame. We’re all so sick of this guy Figueroa trying to get credit for scoring the winning run and not screwing up.
Pie (or pie equivalent): Nobody is pied.
Aug. 9, 2013
Hitter: Jerry Hairston Jr., grounded into apparent 1-6-3, inning-ending double play
Scorer: Adrian Gonzalez. Had reached on an RBI double to make it a one-run game.
Best hero on the field: Gonzalez.
Gonzalez not only drove in the fifth run and put himself on as the potential tying run, but his double set up the intentional walk that set up the double play possibility that set up pitcher Fernando Rodney’s wild throw. Gonzalez did everything in this rally. And when he crosses home plate, he rightly expects that somebody might pay attention to him—git o’er here, he waves with his arm. For a second, they do, and then
you can see the entire group shift toward Hairston, and away from Gonzalez. Watch Clayton Kershaw, in the blue jacket, veer offline; everybody follows. Gonzalez is reduced to dehelmeting his own damned self.
So what does Gonzalez do? He casually insinuates himself back into the group’s path, in a series of side steps. Once there, he obstructs them just enough to get a series of congratulatory bops, all the while going with the flow enough that he can merely spin around and, look at that, now he’s at the head of the pack! The pack that is, of course, going toward Hairston, who fouled the fritata by grounding back to the pitcher.
Feel it, funk it, amps in the trunk:
But, as the jumping around slows down, something happens: The attention does shift toward Gonzalez, partly because of Hairston, who squeezes Gonzalez’s shoulders. If you turned the game on right here, you’d probably be able to tell, accurately, who the hero was:
Pie (or pie equivalent): Intended for Hairston; actually lands on Yasiel Puig,
who frickin loves it.
There is absolutely no ambivalence here; a maximum of one person goes toward the scoring runner, and we don’t see whether even he ever gets there. The only other uncertainty is that of Diaz, whose first steps are more toward the dugout than the scrum, suggesting he might have thought the scrum would be coming for him:
Notable: As Victorino leaves the field, the microphones in the scrum pick up his voice: “You gotta know where to hit it! Gotta know where to hit it!” I think it’s probably safe to say Victorino is being ironic, responding to a teammate who had made his own ironic comment about Victorino’s achievement. I think it’s further safe to say that all of these players in all of these celebrations are aware that they are congratulating the guy who failed his way into a bit of good luck. I would further speculate (fairly, I’d think) that this is part of a shared worldview that all baseball players have and accept after decades of hitting line drives at defenders and squibbers for hits: If you start adjudicating the luck involved in each play, you’ll go bananas. Going bananas will not make you a better baseball player. So just simplify: When a good thing happens, celebrate it.
The other thing that’s notable is… well, you’ll see in the next one of these walk-offs.
Pie (or pie equivalent): The mugging goes to Victorino.
April 20, 2014
Hitter: Mike Carp, smokes a bullet to left field, but it’s caught by charging defender—who then throws wildly home.
Person who scores: Dustin Pedroia, who tags, bluffs, then has to go back, then sees the throw get away and scores easily.
Best hero on the field: Either guy, really. Pedroia had narrowly missed a walk-off home run earlier in the inning. But Carp really hit the ball well. It was very close to a sacrifice fly, and his batted ball forced the throw home, which led to the error. There’s virtually nothing different between what he did (hit the ball at a defender, who then made an error) and what every other batter on this list did, except that Carp crushed the ball and, by hitting it in the air into the outfield, basically did what he was supposed to.
We already saw this same team choose the error-hitter over the run-scorer, so this one should go the same way. And yet!
Look at the Red Sox dugout: Straight line to Pedroia. No move toward Carp at all. Carp, meanwhile, moves toward the guys in the dugout, not Pedroia, suggesting, again, that the only person who was confused about where to go was the guy getting snubbed. He falls in line quickly enough: That’s him, in the back, no hat, pounding on Pedroia:
Pie (or pie equivalent): No pie.
May 17, 2013
Hitter: Russell Martin, popped to second baseman with bases loaded, one out.
Person who scored: Travis Snider, reached on fielder’s choice.
Best hero on the field: Andrew McCutchen, whose one-out single put the winning run on third.
Here’s Travis Snider, touching home plate, then waiting for the crowd to enwisdom him about what he should do:
We don’t see his face, but I’m imagining something like the Night at the Roxbury guys pointing—you? me? you? here? there? Remember those guys? Remember that? See how I just punched up my writing with a 17-year-old pop culture reference?
Given his directions—“we go over there now, dummy!”—Snider falls in line, and they all tackle Martin, who himself runs toward the scrum,
and then makes lots of disbelieving faces:
I’m not sure if this is significant yet, but consider that, in every case but one—the Gonzalez/Hairston case—the more famous, more veteran player gets the accolades. And the Gonzalez/Hairston case seems to be the most divisive, as Nick Punto—the Dodgers' designated cheer leader—does first go pat on Gonzalez, and as Gonzalez does end up in the middle of the scrum getting cheered on, and as Hairston is himself the more veteran player, if not the more famous one. So imagine this Pirates scenario again, but imagine that it’s Travis Snider who botched the brownies by popping out weakly to second base. Imagine it’s Snider who jogged pissily to first base. And imagine that, after the Astros defenders smashed into each other and the ball dropped, it was Team Leader Russell Martin standing at home plate with his arms raised, victory held aloft. In this scenario, Martin’s swarmed, right? Probably?
Pie (or pie equivalent): Martin gets the manager buttslap, after a strangely solemn on-field ceremony.
Aug. 18, 2013
Hitter: Michael Young, grounds into apparent 6-4-3 double play with bases loaded, one out.
Person who scores: Casper Wells, reached on error earlier in the inning.
Best hero on the field: Carlos Ruiz, who moved Wells to third with a clean one-out single.
Here we have another situation, as you’ll see, where the hero is the guy with more service time and more of a leadership role. But I think you’ll also see that Michael Young is the model for how these celebrations probably should go. First, he crosses first base safely, having been pardoned by Hanley Ramirez’s poor defense:
Young doesn’t leap, jump, fling his helmet, piss in a pool. He runs through the bag and claps his hands once. That’s about right. The clap because a good thing happened. He’s happy. No more than that (at least immediately) because anything more would be celebrating himself. Imagine what that would look like to Ramirez. It would look like showing him up, like rubbing it in. Young got mocked plenty because writers were always bending over backward to bestow these noble motives upon him, and so I suppose I’m falling into that trap. But this is a pretty solid reaction to hitting into an inning-ending double play but having it turn out unexpectedly okay for you and bad for the other guys.
Everybody, including the runner Wells, goes straight to Young, in a fairly restrained celebration. They all pat him on the back and on the head, and Young allows this, because what good does it do to reject kind words? Is there anything worse than the guy who responds to a compliment with three reasons why he doesn’t deserve it? Is there anything more arrogant than telling somebody their kind opinion of you is wrong, that even when they're praising you they can’t get it right? For goodness sakes, they're just being polite. Get out of their way and let them be polite!
And then, that out of the way, Young walks away and stares into the void. This is an underappreciated part of team leadership. A team that’s not wary of the void, that’s not constantly staring into deep dark deathliness, is not a team that picks each other up.
You can see by his teammates’ feet that they want to party for just a couple seconds more, but Young is clear. We’re done here. They follow. They always followed Young, into battle when called, away from it when ordered. The win improved the Phillies to 54-69.
May 21, 2014
Hitter: Allen Craig, grounded to shortstop with bases loaded, none out; throw home was wild.
Person who scores: Matt Holliday, leadoff walk.
Best hero on the field: Holliday or Matt Adams, who doubled Holliday to third.
So far we’ve seen our celebrants choose from two options. They generally celebrate the hitter with all the enthusiasm of actual walk-off heroics. They can also celebrate the runner. In the Gonzalez/Hairston case, it skewed a bit toward the middle, so maybe that’s the third option: Two celebrations. But there’s a fourth (or maybe a third) option, which is: Don’t celebrate it as a walk-off win. Not every walk-off win has to be the emotional centerpiece of your season, after all. If you win and there aren’t any true heroics, just handle it like a win. That might be what we’ve got here, but it might not be. Here’s Holliday scoring:
He’s clearly a) in no rush to go anywhere, b) not expecting any bonuses in his check for his role, and c) not all that happy. The camera then cuts to Mike Matheny shaking hands in the dugout, and just a few seconds later—not nearly enough time for a scrum to gather, scrum, and then disperse—we cut to the Cardinals in a fairly traditional-looking handshake line:
So: No celebration? Well, there’s a clue here that we can’t ignore, which is that traditional-looking handshake lines aren’t normally along the first-base line in the outfield. We can presume that the team congregated around error-hitting Allen Craig, and the line grew out of that. So the team chose to celebrate Craig. We just don’t know with what enthusiasm they did so. A conservative estimate—using an unscaled unit of measurement I just made up—would say 32. Maybe 34. They did it with 32 or 34 unscaled enthusiasm units.
Pie (or pie equivalent): No pie. Craig looks more chagrined than the average hitter in this situation, and is given a hug.
There are a few other games ending on errors, but for whatever reason (the error came on a successful sacrifice bunt, or the cameraman didn’t capture a significant portion of the celebration, or whatever) they don’t really apply to our query. We’ll end with one that doesn’t quite fit, because the batter actually does get a base hit (followed by an error), but includes significant data:
July 6, 2013
Hitter: Shane Robinson, singled; throw into the infield inexplicably, unforcedly wild.
Person who scores: Jon Jay, drew two-out walk, scored from first on Robinson’s single+error.
Best hero on the field: Could legitimately go either way. Robinson got a hit, no doubt about it. But Jay’s baserunning was inspired; there was no guarantee he would a) notice the throw got away, or b) be ready to take advantage of it, or c) choose (wisely, as it turned out) to aggressively take advantage of it. Robinson got the hit. But this was a baserunning run, and Jay was the baserunner.
Matt Carpenter gives Jay a hug. This isn’t a hug like Figueroa got. This was enthusiastic, and Carpenter’s first instinct is to follow Jay. Then he remembers Robinson got a hit and charges out toward him.
The rest of the team also gives Jay a hug,
and this, too, is no obligatory communion. They genuinely celebrate Jay, but then they too remember Robinson and peel off to surround him.
Again, this isn’t the same situation as we’re talking about with Jennings, where there are arguably no heroes. This is a two-hero celebration. But there is a choice to be made here. Do we reward the guy who hit the ball, even though the ball he hit was not especially responsible for the run scoring, relative to the defensive failures that followed? Or do we reward the guy who actually scored the run, who literally ended the game? Turns out that, here again, we reward the guy who hit the ball. Robinson, the hitter, gets the pounding (and, if there was one later, the pie, I’m sure),
and Robinson, not Jay, is named player of the game for his pinch-hit:
So here’s my understanding of felony murder: If you commit a felony and somebody dies, it’s felony murder. It doesn’t have to be premeditated, it doesn’t have to be intentional, you don’t have to have pulled the trigger or even known that the trigger was pulled. Once you start committing a felony, a whole bunch of unexpected stuff can happen, and you’re responsible for it.
That seems to be the idea here. With 100 percent confidence I’ll assert that hitting a round ball with a round bat is not actually the hardest thing to do in sports, but it’s definitely hard. Players appreciate that it’s hard. Once you do so, a whole bunch of unexpected stuff can happen. And you get credit for it! This is why we’re all punching you!
Thank you for reading
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