San Francisco Wins with Giant Ball
The San Francisco Giants won the second game of the 2012 World Series via an old-fashioned method called “execution.” Some may describe SanFran’s strategy as “small ball” but maybe it should be called “giant ball.”
Games like this were what made me fall in love with baseball. Sure, I am awestruck by seemingly superhuman feats such as hurling a baseball in excess of 100 MPH, or swatting that same ball 450 feet. But for me, the sheer beauty of the game — and the reason I watch it, play it, or teach it every day I can — is because a game can be won or lost depending on seemingly small decisions and execution. A well-played baseball game might be compared to a chess match: one needs to know the right move and execute it — and every move can potentially influence every succeeding move as well as the fate of the game.
Game Two was all about execution, beginning with the two starting pitchers. Tigers starter Doug Fister was precise, but the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner was pinpoint. As a result, every single pitch, every at-bat, every play, became magnified and gained absolute importance. Most of the general population doesn’t have the patience to enjoy a game like this — which is why mounds were lowered, strike zones shrunken, and PEDs allowed to permeate MLB. But for the rest of us, a game like this is not only appreciated — it defines baseball’s entertainment value.
This game wasn’t decided by a three-run, walk-off home run in the final inning. It was decided by a seemingly insignificant play in the top of the second inning. (OK, it didn’t seem insignificant because it was a World Series game, but generally speaking, the average spectator would not give it a second thought.) Delmon Young hit a double into the left-field corner, chasing Prince Fielder around the bases. Third-base coach Gene Lamont assessed the situation, and surmised that the best course of action was to send Fielder home in an attempt to score. Was it a good decision? Based on the result, no — because Fielder was out at home.
Baseball is beautiful because that doesn’t even begin to tell the entire story. That one play was much more complex than that, with many layers of executions and failures — many of which encourage argument — and it all happened within a few seconds.
Hindsight removed, was it truly a bad decision by Lamont? I’m not so sure, because for Fielder to be called out, Gregor Blanco needed to pick up the ball cleanly, get a good grip on it, make a perfect throw to his relay man, who in turn had to receive the ball, get it out of his glove quickly and with a good grip, and make a perfect throw to home. Then, Buster Posey had to catch the ball while almost simultaneously turning toward Fielder and applying the tag. The ball had to arrive before Fielder, Fielder needed to be close enough to be tagged, and Posey had to hold on to the ball throughout the process. Finally, the umpire had to be in perfect position to make the call. In short, many, many things had to go right for the Giants to prevent Fielder from scoring. So from that standpoint, it could be argued that Lamont made a somewhat risky move, but it could be acceptable as being aggressive puts pressure on the other team to be perfect, and perfection is often elusive.
On the other hand, there were no outs and no score at the time. Had Lamont held up Fielder, it’s still a great situation for the Tigers: none out, men on second and third. All it takes is a ground ball, a sac fly, a wild pitch — any of a myriad of outcomes — to score Fielder from third base. The pressure would be on Bumgarner and the Giants defense to prevent that run from scoring.
Lamont’s decision goes deeper, though, because some may translate it as subconscious desperation. Is it possible that the Tigers — in the second inning of the second game of the World Series — felt the need to force something to happen? Did that fear derive from seeing their ace a Justin Verlander reduced to something less than other-worldly 24 hours previous? Did Lamont not have faith that batters six through eight would not be able to push Fielder home? Maybe that’s overthinking the situation, but it doesn’t matter, because there’s enough here to spark a discussion.
And actually, the Giants were not perfect in their execution — Blanco overthrew his cutoff man. But Marco Scutaro — who has emerged as some kind of superhero over the last week — was backing up the relay man. If Scutaro is instead hanging out by second base — perhaps to keep Young from advancing too far from the bag — then the ball never gets to Posey, and Fielder scores.
Speaking of Posey, was anyone else reminded of the collision that ended his 2011 season? At my OnBaseball.com site, I answered the question of “should the rules be changed?” by suggesting that Posey was improperly positioned, and the injury was in essence, due to his own faulty execution — not a fault of baseball’s rules. I don’t bring this up to be a show-off, but to point out that last night, Posey’s proper execution not only kept him out of harm’s way, but also was a deciding factor in a World Series game.
There’s that word again: “execution.” In “giant ball,” the team that executes will beat the team that doesn’t. Many, many other executions — and lack of execution — led to last night’s final score. The one play examined here lasted about 7 seconds, and aptly displayed one of the core beauties of baseball.
What is your thought on the play? What other “little things” did you note during the game that impacted the outcome? Post in the comments.