By Steve Kallas
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In Game 2 of the 2013 World Series, the Red Sox took a page out of the Cardinals' defensive Game 1 nightmare and allowed the Cardinals to get out of Boston with a split.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SEVENTH INNING?
Well, John Lackey was cruising along. But after striking out Allen Craig, he walked David Freese on a 3-2 pitch and Jon Jay singled to right. John Farrell decided to take Lackey out and bring in lefty Craig Breslow. The Cardinals sent Pete Kozma in to pinch-run for Freese at second.
With Daniel Descalso up, it was pretty clear that Kozma was trying to steal third, but Breslow stepped off and Kozma quickly retreated to second. Later in the Descalso at-bat, Kozma and Jay pulled a double steal, with Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia fumbling the ball while trying to take it out of his glove.
On the actual steal, Saltalamacchia might have had some World Series jitters. And of course, as sometimes happens, he certainly rushed too quickly to try to throw Kozma out at third -- a distinct possibility given Kozma's so-so jump. Descalso then walked to load the bases.
Bases loaded with one out and the Red Sox leading, 2-1. Matt Carpenter comes to the plate. He hits a fly ball to not-very-deep left field, but the Cardinals -- aggressive on the bases -- go for broke by sending Kozma.
A good throw gets Kozma, but this throw is off target and a bit up the first-base line. Saltalamacchia, still either too nervous and/or too quick for himself, decides to try to catch the ball without stepping to it and lunge back and tag Kozma. It certainly did not appear, on replay, that even if Saltalamacchia had caught the ball cleanly he could have tagged Kozma out.
The ball bounced off his glove and was picked up by Breslow, who was intelligently backing up home. But then Breslow unintelligently tried to throw Jay out at third and the ball wound up in the stands in left field.
So the Cardinals lead, 3-2, in Game 2, For all intents and purposes -- the gutty Carlos Beltran would single in Jay with an insurance run to make the final 4-2 -- it's over.
Saltalamacchia is given an error for allowing Jay to go from second to third and Breslow is given an error for allowing what proved to be the winning run to score.
SO WHAT WAS THE CRITIQUE OF THAT PLAY?
Fascinating stuff. On ESPN's "Baseball Tonight," the "experts" said that Gomes should have thrown to second to double off Jay, who had gone about halfway between second and third and was scurrying back as Gomes was about to catch the ball.
But it certainly was not clear if Gomes would have gotten the inning-ending double play at second.
It is absurd to say that Gomes should have thrown to second. It's not like Jay was in a full sprint toward third when Gomes caught the ball. It wasn't a sure thing that Gomes would get the double play.
And, frankly, a good throw from Gomes to home from short left would have beaten Kozma home.
Look at it this way: If Gomes, with a clear chance to throw out the potential tying run in a World Series game, throws to second and doesn't double Jay up, those same "experts" would have given him the "Idiot of the Year" award.
And it simply wasn't crystal clear that Jay would have been out at second. At best (or worst), it would have been a bang-bang play.
WHAT ABOUT SALTALAMACCHIA AT HOME?
Well, former catcher Tim McCarver said that Saltalamacchia should have come off the plate, catch the ball and then try to tag Kozma. In addition, McCarver told us that, had Saltalamacchia come off the plate, Breslow would never have been in a position to throw the ball away and allow the go-ahead run to score.
Saltalamacchia had no chance to get Kozma whether he came off the plate or not. While that's a split-second decision, he had even less of a chance to get Kozma if he left home, took a step, caught the ball and then took a step back toward home.
Hopefully, you get the point.
As for the comment that Saltalamacchi, if he had left home and caught the ball, would have prevented Breslow from making a poor throw to third, well, that's true. But major league players can't leave the base on the notion that, "I'd better catch this ball or the pitcher behind me might throw the ball away."
While McCarver is totally right that, in the modern era, pitchers seem to have a lot of trouble throwing to bases, that can't be a reason for a catcher to leave home, especially when he is trying to tag out the tying run in the seventh inning of a World Series game.
Hopefully, you get that point as well.
The World Series resumes on Saturday in St. Louis.
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