By Steve Kallas
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By now, you've read about or seen the play. It was Game 6 and the Tigers were facing elimination. Top of the sixth with the Tigers up, 2-1.
Victor Martinez at first, Prince Fielder at third and nobody out. The Tigers have a big-time opportunity to get a few more runs in and give Justin Verlander the ball for Game 7.
Jhonny Peralta hits a hard ground ball to second base. Dustin Pedroia fields the ball and starts to throw home as Fielder is running on contact. But Pedroia sees Martinez running toward him and Fielder stops about halfway down the line. So Pedroia tags Martinez -- who goes on to the infield grass trying to avoid the tag -- and then throws home. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia runs Fielder back toward third and tags him out as he tries to avoid the tag.
HOW DID TIM McCARVER ANALYZE THE PLAY?
Well, here's exactly what he said:
"That's terrible baserunning by Prince Fielder. He's (Fielder)
gotta make Pedroia come home with the ball before he (Pedroia)
can tag Martinez between first and second. This plays right into
"I don't think I've ever seen this, Joe. Pedroia fakes home and now
goes home. They get Fielder in a rundown and Saltalamacchia
finally makes the tag. Fielder has gotta come home, prevent
the tag between first and second. But he stopped between first and
second, between home and third.
"You can't make that mistake. Pedroia made a brilliant play for
the double play."
WHAT DID TIM McCARVER MISS?
Well, that's easy. While Fielder made a terrible baserunning mistake -- both he and manager Jim Leyland said he was supposed to go on contact -- by not continuing home once he left on contact, Martinez made a gigantic baserunning mistake that seems to have been missed by everybody.
On a ground ball to second, especially in a situation with runners on first and third, the runner leaving first has to immediately make a judgment. In this particular situation, Martinez should have simply stopped after one or two strides. In other words, Martinez (not Fielder) gave Pedroia the chance to make this improbable double play. If Martinez isn't near Pedroia -- and, again, he certainly didn't have to be -- Pedroia probably throws home. He robably gets Fielder and then the Tigers have first and second with one out, In other words, they have a chance to still score more runs.
If Pedroia makes a mistake and doesn't throw home, allowing Fielder to score, he probably tags Martinez and then flips to first to get the double play. In that case, Detroit is up 3-1 with two outs and nobody on.
This is on Martinez as much or more than on Fielder because, again, the double play by tagging Martinez and throwing home is IMPOSSIBLE if Martinez isn't near Pedroia. This mistake is what allowed Pedroia to make the brilliant double play.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE: McCARVER TOTALLY GOT THIS WRONG!
About two minutes later, almost as an afterthought, McCarver made this startling statement about the amazing double play after a comment from Joe Buck:
"Yeah, and the middle infielders were playing at double
-play depth, not in."
Well, not exactly.
There are three -- not two -- ways to play the infield in this type of situation. First, you can play the infield in to have the best chance to cut the run off at the plate, or make the runner stay at third. Clearly the Red Sox did not do that, nor did they want to. Obviously, it's easier to get a base hit with the infield in.
Secondly, they could play the infield back, at double-play depth, as McCarver mistakenly said. In that situation, you essentially concede the run to turn two. But, of course, the Red Sox didn't want to concede a run already down in a huge game in the sixth inning.
The third way to play the infield, and the way that the Red Sox DID play, is to play the middle infielders "halfway." That is, not all the way up and not all the way back. Both Pedroia and shortstop Stephen Drew were well in front of the back of the infield dirt.
In that case, when Pedroia fields the hard grounder by Peralta -- and then, in his judgment, he can come home and stop the run -- he is virtually in the baseline between first and second and can tag out Martinez running from first ONLY IF MARTINEZ MAKES THE BLUNDER OF RUNNING TOWARD PEDROIA.
Which, of course, Martinez did.
The position of the middle infielders before the ball is hit is readily apparent from the wide-screen shot from behind home plate that was shown on the replay. The reason you play your middle infielders "halfway" -- and this has been done forever -- is for precisely what happened: The batter hits a ball very hard right at the second baseman or shortstop.
That's exactly what happened, and both Martinez AND Fielder had to make baserunning blunders to have this amazing double play happen.
And they both did.
ONE FINAL THING ON THE BASEBALL BRILLIANCE OF PEDROIA, MISSED BY THE "EXPERTS"
Baseball is a very nuanced game, very interesting, often fascinating. Everyone understands how intelligent and quick-thinking a player like Pedroia is based on the double play he pulled off.
But if you want to understand brilliance on top of brilliance, watch the play again. After Pedroia throws home and Saltalamacchia starts to run Fielder back toward third, somebody -- usually the pitcher in this situation -- has to run home and cover home plate in case the rundown continues.
Who is covering home as Saltalamacchia runs Fielder back to third?
Pedroia, that's who. Brilliance on top of brilliance in an amazing baseball play.
Watch the replay and draw your own conclusions with your own eyes. There's plenty to see. You can learn a lot about baseball and the nuances of baseball by watching this play.
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