If I go to a baseball game with someone who might not be very familiar with the sport, I try to widen their perspective of the game by comparing it to attending the symphony. If all you do is watch the conductor, you are not getting the full effect of how all the sections mesh together to create the visual and musical experience. In baseball, if all you do is follow the ball, you are not getting the full experience of the game.
For example, if runners are on first and second, and a ball is lined into the right-center field gap and you only follow the ball, you are not getting the full appreciation of the beauty of the game. At the crack of the bat, all nine players have a responsibility. The right fielder and center fielder converge on the ball. The second baseman goes out for a relay throw. The shortstop needs to stay around second in case there is a play there on the batter. The third baseman is at the bag in anticipation there could be a play there. The first baseman moves toward the pitcher’s mound in front of home plate to potentially cut off a throw home. The pitcher has to make a decision on whether to back up third or home in the event a throw gets through. Even the left fielder, who at first glance doesn’t seem to be part of the play, needs to come in toward the infield either as a backup should a throw get away or to join in a rundown should one occur. This movement of players is the symphony of baseball.
All of this came to mind in the Giants 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates two nights ago in the first walk-off replay reversal since the new system was installed this year. Pirates outfielder Sterling Marte drilled a ball high off the right-field wall with two outs in the ninth against Tim Hudson with the score tied 1-1. Marte kept running as right fielder Hunter Pence threw the ball to second baseman Ehire Adrianza, whose throw to third got past third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Marte broke for home while Sandoval tracked down the ball and threw a strike to catcher Buster Posey. Posey reached down to make the tag, and plate umpire Quinn Wolcott called Marte out. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle protested that Marte beat the tag, and the umpires decided to ask the command center in New York to review the play.
The call was overturned, Marte was declared safe, and the Pirates celebrated while the Giants moaned. The focus since Tuesday has been on the replay system, such as what is the definition of “conclusive” or “inconclusive” evidence in determining safe or out. The Giants still think they got robbed, but before the team puts all the blame on the replay call, they might take time to review how they could have avoided putting themselves in a position where they had to rely on the New York center.
I counted defensive lapses by seven Giants on Marte’s smash.
Pence (1) never had a chance to catch the ball, yet he made a bad judgment in running all the way to the wall, allowing the ball to carom back toward the infield. If he plays it safe and takes the carom, Marte has no more than a double. At the crack of the bat, center fielder Angel Pagan (2) must automatically dash toward right field, especially when he sees Pence going to the wall so he could be in a position to pick up a carom. But there was no sign of Pagan in the video of the play I saw. leaving Pence on his own to have to chase the ball down. Adrianza, (3) the relay man who took Pence’s throw, should have surveyed where Marte was as Pence was fielding the ball and determined there was no chance to get him at third base. In addition, Adrianza was charged with the actual error for the throw that got past Sandoval. Two Giants should have signaled to Adrianza not to throw the ball to third. Sandoval (4) should have stood at third with his arms up, the international baseball sign to a fielder not to make the throw. Shortstop Brandon Crawford, (5) who was near Adrianza, crouched down to get out of the way of the throw to third. Instead, he should have alertly been playing the part of the traffic cop, yelling and signaling to Adrianza to hold the ball because there was no chance to get Marte. Hudson (6) ran over to back up the play, but was way out of position based on the direction of the throw, so when the ball skipped toward the stands, he was unable to grab it and keep Marte at third.
What happened at home plate was fascinating.
Sandoval made a good hustling play to retrieve the ball and throw a strike to Posey (7) that beat Marte, but the Giants catcher had himself out of position at home plate. Posey was standing in front of the plate before the ball arrived. His orders, long before baseball’s new collision rules were enacted this year, are to avoid contact with the runner at all costs. So Posey, even though he had Marte nailed, began to awkwardly back-pedal, and then had to lean in for the tag. Posey’s better play would have been to be situated right in back of the plate. where he could have taken the throw and then be the aggressor by going low which would make his legs less vulnerable. Instead, Posey’s retreat not only increased his chance of injury, but allowed Marte to be the aggressor, as he came hard with a head-first slide.
The Giants are in first place, playing good ball, and finding ways to win. But on Tuesday night, while fans, sportswriters and announcers were all watching the conductor, the symphony fell flat.