It was like “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” when Tampa Bay’s Manuel Margot tried to steal home in the fourth inning of game five Sunday night. As the late Phil Rizzuto said in the famous song, “He’s taking a pretty big lead out there.”
The Dodgers were shifting against left hand hitting Kevin Kiermaier and that enabled Margot to get a huge lead from third. Clayton Kershaw was in the process of squashing a Rays’ rally that began with runners at first and third and no one out. Kershaw got Joey Wendle to pop out to shortstop, and then he struck out Willy Adames on three pitchers. Kiermaier does not hit left handers well and he looked he was going to have a hard time in that at bat.
Kershaw has a unique way of going into the stretch. The left hander picks his arms up over his head and brings them down slowly to the stretch position. Tampa Bay felt that if a runner on third could get a big enough lead, then when Kershaw begins to go into the stretch, that could be a time to take off.
There was some debate as to whether it was a good move to try and steal home in that spot. I thought that was a very good gamble that just didn’t work out. The only thing I would’ve done differently is I would’ve had Margot wait until there were two strikes on Kiermaier. Margot went on a 0-1 count.
The idea was, in part, to use the element of surprise to get Kershaw to balk, while he’s going into the stretch. To his credit, the veteran pitcher went through the proper protocol. He was alerted to the steal attempt, stepped off the rubber and threw home to just nail Margot. It was a very close play and one that nearly worked. Pitchers are not used to making throws home that are not actual pitches from the rubber, so that’s a factor that could help a risky play succeed.
Look for teams to try this tactic in the future. If the shift is employed against a left handed hitter, a runner on third can get a substantial “walking lead” and may try and take a shot at it, depending on the pitcher, of course.
Shifting with a runner on third allowed Mookie Betts to score the Dodgers’ third run in game one. The Rays employed a shift on left hand hitting Max Muncy and Betts, who had stolen second and third, got such a huge lead that he was able to go on contact with the infield in.
This World Series has brought out the best that baseball has to offer without the abundance of home runs and strikeouts. Oh, there are home runs and strikeouts, but there’s also been “action.”
The attempted steal of home and the successful safety squeeze bunt by Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes in game 3 are what the game needs more of. If you do or don’t like the bunt, it created a debate. Should they or should they not bunt? Was that a good time for a bunt? Why are you giving up an out? The 9th inning of game 4 will go down as one of the wackiest game ending plays in World Series lore and not one ball went over the fence and of course, contact was made to initiate that memorable final play.
This is what baseball needs to focus on in the future. The game needs more “action.” The game doesn’t need more boring occurrences like strikeouts. Put the ball in play, let fielders field and hitters hit, literally. I don’t care how bad the TV ratings are. I will always remember the three words that my late friend and baseball lifer, Tom “T-Bone” Giordano would use when referring to the sport of baseball. “Our great game,” is what he called it. It’s still great when you allow it to be.
I have to acknowledge the late Bill Shannon today. Ten years ago, on October 26th, 2010, Bill perished in a tragic house fire. Bill Shannon was my mentor. Without him, I would never have become a Major League Baseball official scorer.
Bill was a big man (6’4”) and an imposing figure, a “gentle giant” if you will, but to me, he was like my uncle. Bill was literally an encyclopedia of knowledge. He had a brilliant baseball mind, but he was well versed in many subjects outside of sports.
Bill was well respected throughout the baseball fraternity and was considered “the best official scorer in the country” while he was working. Bill believed in me and was one of the first among those in the business to do so.
Every year, I will always be sad on this date. I miss my “uncle” dearly and I’m sure, I’m not alone in that regard.
(Photo courtesy of twitter)