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 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.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Joe October 26, 2012 at 10:31 am
    I didn’t watch the game but since it was mentioned on this blog in the past, this bit from the NY Daily News article on the current state of the Wright/Dickey talks might be of interest to some readers:

    “In a moving moment during Game 1 of the World Series at San Francisco’s AT&T Park Wednesday night, fans, players, umpires and coaches held up the now familiar “Stand up 2 Cancer” placards, each one with a name or names of cancer patients.

    When the cameras cut to the Fox broadcast booth, Tim McCarver, the former major league catcher and Fox analyst, had a familiar name on his card — Shannon Forde. Forde, 41, is the longtime Mets media relations member and mother of two who was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in August.”

    Read more:

    I like the eloquent nature of baseball too but I also like exciting WS baseball. One team that seems to be favored, just better, is unfortunate. It is but 0-2, but this doesn’t bode well for the Tigers. That’s unfortunate,since the match-up was interesting. And, yes, sending him smelled of desperation. He’s a slower runner too.

  2. derek October 26, 2012 at 10:59 am

    great call on the scutaro backup…each year so many games are won and lost on something as simple as backing up…you think luis castillo would have positioned himself there?? you get rewarded when you hustle and play hard on every play…mets need to take notes….

    • Izzy October 26, 2012 at 12:42 pm
      What the hell is the difference what Castillo would have done. Did you miss the release announcement a couple years ago? The only Met relevance is Murphy and the chances are great he wouldn’t have been there and/or wouldn’t have made the perfect throw.
  3. NormE October 26, 2012 at 11:49 am
    Every time Scutaro does well I remember when the Mets gave him his first shot at MLB. He has persevered and developed into a heads up ballplayer. I enjoy watching him.
  4. Mike Kelm October 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm
    I think the desperation is what did it, or maybe just the excitement of the moment. I’m looking forward to and am enjoying these games- they seem to move at a pretty good clip as opposed to the usual Yankee post-season game, which is only slightly shorter than the time it gets to the moon, and is a very fun style of ball. I watched the game last night with my son on my shoulder (he’s 2 months, so this will probably be the last world series he gets to watch live for another decade or so) and found myself enjoying it. I have no dog in this fight but I just liked watching baseball for the sake of baseball and it’s strategy.
  5. DaveSchneck October 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm
    Baseball has its moments that drag, but its hard to beat October ball with great pitching, where each pitch, all the minutia, and every execution matters. Great stuff, even if it doesn’t involve the Mets. I’m not sure this can be replicated in the adulterated league ballpark over the weekend.
  6. friend October 26, 2012 at 5:19 pm
    I’m thinking that Lamont may have been reacting to what appeared to be an unexpected carom that seemed to catch Blanco out of position to be able to make the play. I’m pretty sure that I remember hearing that visiting outfielders spend practice time learning the caroms, although I have no idea how common the practice is. As for this play, I wonder whether visiting third base coaches ever make an effort to go out and study the caroms, in order to apply it to their decision making.
    • Joe Janish October 26, 2012 at 11:56 pm
      You make a great point. Again, this is why I love baseball: this one play has so many layers to examine, contemplate, and discuss.

      Every game I’ve ever played or coached, the first thing I do / did upon arriving at the park is slowly walk around the entire field — even if it’s my team’s home field, because you never know what has changed due to weather, wear, etc. I wanted to know of any element that might affect a play, just in case it was necessary to apply that info toward taking an extra base, calling for a cutoff, positioning fielders, etc. Around 90% of the time, I didn’t find anything of consequence or didn’t have the occasion to apply the information. But in the other 10% of the time, it provided an edge and may have helped win a ballgame.

      More to the point, it’s vital for an outfielder to know his surroundings like the back of his hand, and find a way to replicate every possibility in terms of the ball rolling, bounding, bouncing, and caroming. I’d be curious to know how much time Blanco has spent preparing for a play like that one — or if it was sheer luck that he picked it so cleanly.

      The third base coach may have the toughest job, because he has to make split-second decisions and never sees the exact same play twice. It’s kind of like playing speed chess, except in chess, there is a finite number of possibilities, so it can be practiced. How does one practice coaching third base? I’m not sure it can be done.

  7. argonbunnies October 27, 2012 at 1:53 am
    Huh. I always thought 3rd base coaching was simple.

    Watch the play. Know the speed of your runner. Know the speed of the thrown ball. Know when you need to commit to the decision: send or hold. When that moment arrives, base your decision on the speed and current position of ball and runner.

    The requisite skills would seem to be good eyesight and enough reps to develop a sense of the relevant speeds. Plus the calmness to perform well when runs are at stake and it’s your big moment, the presence of mind to stand where the runner can see you, etc.

    Every time I see a third base coach make a bad call, it looks to me like they made their mind up too early instead of watching the play develop and remaining ready to respond to what happened.

    • Joe Janish October 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm
      Gee when you explain it like that, it does sound simple.

      Have you ever done it?

  8. Dave October 27, 2012 at 10:26 am
    I thought the Lamont decision was the correct decision. The biggest fault was with the on deck batter not being in position to tell Fielder where to slide. In that situation he needs to see how everything is unfolding and emphatically tell Fielder to slide on the foul side of home plate, too far away from Posey to make a tag (in theory).

    I also was interested that Bochy got rewarded for making an incorrect managerial decision while Leyland got punished for making a correct one. Bochy was giving away an out with runners on first and second and none out with his light-hitting shortstop and (presumably) a pinch hitter on deck. He was rewarded by Blanco’s bunt hugging the line and staying fair for an infield hit, but I imagine a successful sacrifice significantly decreases the likelihood of SF winning that game. Meanwhile with the bases loaded Leyland played the infield back hoping to limit the damage. A team is very likely to score at least one run with the bases loaded and none out, and playing the infield in would increase the likelihood for a big inning. As it is he got out of the inning with only one run but the Giants pitching made it stand.