By now you’ve seen the play. World Series Game 2, top 2nd, nobody out, no score, Prince Fielder on first. Delmon Young doubles down the left field line. Fielder, chugging around the bases, is waived home by third-base coach Gene Lamont. But Fielder runs home inside the third-base line as the throw from Gregor Blanco goes over the first cut-off man’s head and into the hands of the second cut-off man, second baseman Marco Scutaro (for you knowledgeable baseball fans, no different defensively, set-up wise, than the famous Jeter flip play against Oakland in the 2001 playoffs). Scutaro throws home, Buster Posey catches the ball inside the baseline in fair territory and sweep tags Fielder. He’s out (a correct call), but this play should have been a run for Detroit or, at least, second and third, nobody out.
San Francisco eventually wins the game, 2-0, and leads the Series, 2-0, with their two top pitchers starting Games 3 and 4, respectively.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, JHONNY PERALTA?
Who? Jhonny Peralta, one of the keys to the play (and the game and, arguably, the Series), was really nowhere to be found. The on-deck hitter’s (Peralta’s) job, since time immemorial, is to gauge the play and give the bas erunner some direction: slide, don’t slide, slide to the inside of home, slide to the outside of home.
Almost a lost art, the on-deck hitter directing a base runner (or not directing a base runner) was the key to this play. If Fielder hook slides away from the infield to the outside of home plate, Buster Posey tags the air. If players don’t hook slide anymore (and there is an erroneous school of thought today that you should never hook slide), then all Fielder had to do was the (now commonplace) “slide by,” that is, slide somewhere back in the right-handed batter’s box and reach back with your left hand and touch home.
Again, Posey would have been tagging air.
On the Fox telecast, nobody in the booth recognized Peralta’s error until AJ Pierzynski, guest commentator, if you will, pointed out that it was up to the on-deck batter to help Fielder. On replay, Joe Buck said that Peralta “got there late.”
An absurd comment. In fact, in terms of helping Fielder out, Peralta never got there at all. On one shot, he can be seen, at most, acting as a cheerleader, raising his hands to complain about the out call. He did nothing and didn’t seem to know that he had to do anything. On SportsCenter on ESPN, neither John Kruk, Curt Schilling nor Terry Francona (all former players and Francona, of course, a former manager) even mentioned the poorness of the slide. Probably just a case of protecting a player (Fielder, Peralta?) or a coach (Lamont). Or maybe just a lack of knowledge?
Kind of hard to believe, but that’s baseball in the 21st Century. Even the players often don’t know what they are supposed to do.
TWO OTHER MISTAKES ON THIS PLAY
It’s stunning how many things went wrong on this play for the Tigers. Next time you see the replay, watch Fielder running between second and third. Rather than picking up his coach, about halfway to third, Fielder, inexplicably, looks out towards left field, presumably (and stupidly) to pick up the ball.
But that’s not his job (that’s the third base coach’s job) and that brief look out to the outfield costs Fielder a split second; the difference, even with a poor slide, between out and safe.
Third base coach Lamont made the other mistake. Nobody called it a mistake. Jim Leyland, covering for his coach after the game, said Lamont might have been “overaggressive.”
Fielder can’t run and didn’t have a feel (with no help from Peralta) where to slide. He should have intuitively slid to the outside since Posey was in fair territory and inside the third base line and could only have covered the inside of home. Plus, Posey probably wanted no part of a collision at home, given his season-ending injury in a collision at home plate last year.
Lamont should have known who was running and should have known there was nobody out. With two outs, you can make a case it was worth the gamble. With one out, you probably shouldn’t send him because there are plenty of ways to score Fielder from third (with less than two out).
With nobody out, it’s a no-brainer. Unless the runner can score easily standing up, there was just no reason to send Fielder.
SO, DID A BAD SLIDE BY PRINCE FIELDER COST THE TIGERS THE WORLD SERIES?
The answer to this question is no. Having said that, the poor play by Fielder, Lamont and Peralta cost the Tigers something very important: THE LEAD.
And that is something the Detroit Tigers, already down one game to none and soon to be down two games to none after this play, desperately needed.