The Yankees win a miracle game over the Oakland A’s in 14 innings after getting down four runs in the 13th inning and everybody is talking about the impossible comeback (only the second time in the storied history of the New York Yankees that they came back to win after being down at least four runs in extra innings). While that, rightly, is the focus of all articles on the game, this article is about something much more subtle – the inability (or lack of desire) of Robinson Cano to hustle in the field.
HAS THIS HAPPENED BEFORE?
Well, you will recall that just a few weeks ago, on Monday, September 3, in a game against Tampa Bay, Cano refused to leave his feet to try and knock down a ground ball to his left. The resulting single to right by Chris Gimenez allowed Ryan Roberts to easily score what proved to be the winning run in a 4-3 Tampa victory.
All of this happened in the middle of a division/wild card race where, for the first time, nobody wants to be the wild card (because of the one-game playoff) if they can win the division. Many roundly criticized Cano for his perceived lack of effort but he said he was hurt and Joe Girardi said he thought that Cano simply misjudged the grounder and couldn’t get to it.
FLASH FORWARD TO YESTERDAY
Clealy lost in the shuffle, there was another play yesterday that might actually signal the start of a new era (error?) in baseball. Top 7, Yankees up 5-4 (still, obviously, in a division/wild card race with the surprisingly good Orioles for Manager of the Year Buck Showalter), man on first, one out, Brandon Moss at the plate.
Moss hits a ground ball between first and second. Maybe Nick Swisher should have caught it; maybe not. In any event, Cano moves to his left, clearly assumes that Swisher will catch the ball, slows down and, when Swisher doesn’t catch it, Cano watches the ball go by him and into right field. Yoenis Cespedes, the runner on first with good speed, moves on to third.
SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?
Well, here’s the big deal. With one out, at a minimum, you want to keep the ball in the infield. It’s late in the game, the Yankees have a one-run lead and, by loafing to the ball, presumably assuming that Nick Swisher would catch it (Swisher is ok at first but he’s no Mark Teixeira down there), he allowed the tying run to go to third with one out.
Once at third, with less than two out, Cespedes, with good speed, could easily score on a sacrifice fly. Which is exactly what happened as Chris Carter flies out to center and Cespedes scores the tying run.
While you never know what is going to happen after a play in a baseball game, what you do know is this: if Robinson Cano hustled to his left, at a minimum, Cespedes does not get to third. And then it would be impossible for him to score the tying run in an important game on a sac fly.
That’s the big deal.
WINNING ERASES ALL ILLS
While many focused on rookie Melky Mesa failing to touch third in the bottom of the 14th (maybe Joe Girardi should have put him in a game before this important pinch-running role – Mesa had been on the Yankee bench for 10 games before getting in yesterday as a pinch runner in a huge spot), that mistake was erased when the Yankees won the game.
But everybody forgot about Cano’s terrible play (or lack thereof) on the ball in the seventh inning that allowed the A’s to tie the game and forced the Yankees to play 14 (rather than a probable nine) innings. Again, you don’t know what would have happened if Cano had hustled after that ball and kept it in the infield, but you do know that the Yankees still would have had a 5-4 lead with a runner on second, not third, in a crucial game.
THE START OF A NEW ERA (ERROR)?
Well, that remains to be seen. A generation ago, virtually everybody ran hard to first. It was a given, a part of the game. After all, how hard could it be to run hard to first out of the batter’s box three or four times a game. It’s only 90 feet, right?
Flash forward to today, where players (including the ultra-talented Cano) routinely do not run hard to first. It’s an epidemic and, while pointed out time and again, has routinely become part of the game. When Derek Jeter is often praised because he “busts it” out of the box when he hits the ball, you know something is very wrong. When any player is praised for what every player should routinely do, something is very wrong.
But we are already there, for worse (not better). The question now becomes are we on the verge of equal laziness in the field? The answer is maybe. If Robinson Cano can half-heartedly go after a ground ball in the middle of a division/wild card race because he thinks Nick Swisher might catch it, it’s not a far leap to others doing the same thing.
We will have to wait and see, but that’s exactly how not running to first became an every day occurrence in major league baseball.
And the integrity of the game takes another hit.