By Steve Kallas
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DOES ANYBODY KNOW HOW TO HOOK SLIDE ANYMORE? AND OTHER THOUGHTS ON YANKS-TEXAS
Lost in the shuffle of the Yankees stunning 6-5 victory over the Texas Rangers last night in Texas was the Rangers inability to score a fourth run in the first inning. If you are on third at the Texas ballpark (Wrigley Field also comes to mind), where there is a wall behind home, you have to be careful on any wild pitch to make sure that you judge the carom off the backstop.
So it was after Josh Hamilton’s three-run homer (if you don’t think that CC Sabathia was hurt by too much rest — three-run homer on a hanging slider, three walks in the first inning, five runs in four innings – you don’t understand pitching) in the first that Texas loaded the bases. Nelson Cruz on third as Sabathia uncorks a wild pitch.
Cruz hustles down the line from third, CC is late to cover the plate but, as the carom comes almost right back to Posada, there is going to be a play at the plate. Cruz, inexplicably, is running INSIDE the third base line in fair territory with CC coming in from the mound, also in fair territory. Posada’s underhand flip gives CC a chance and, again inexplicably, Cruz pretty much slides where CC can tag him.
He looks safe because his body is ahead of Sabathia’s tag on (maybe) his arm but definitely his shoulder. But in fact he is out.
What should Nelson Cruz have done? Well, that’s easy. If Nelson Cruz hook slides towards foul territory and AWAY from CC Sabathia, there wouldn’t have even been a tag play at home. Sabathia, late to the plate, would have tagged thin air. It would have been impossible to even have a close play.
In the last decade or so, the hook slide has been almost eliminated from baseball. I am told that it’s not even taught by most teams anymore because you simply get there faster by sliding straight in to the base. While that is true in many instances, it’s obvious to anyone with a baseball brain that, in the situation last night, Cruz is easily safe by hook sliding into the plate.
This would be important if the game wound up a one-run affair: Yankees 6, Texas 5.
Frankly, there are other things Nelson Cruz could have done. He could have run two feet to the right of the third base line (in foul territory), dove past the plate and reached out with his left hand to touch the plate. Again, it would have been IMPOSSIBLE for CC to tag Cruz. Cruz should not have opted for the pop-up slide (the reason for the pop-up slide is to go on to the next base, useless when you are sliding into home). Obviously, his lead (left) foot never touched home (it touched before home plate and then after home plate) because his bent (right) leg, which did touch the plate, was preparing him to pop up (after he crossed home – beyond stupid).
And nobody (announcer, commentator, reporter) seemed to get that.
Understand that sliding is an art form in and of itself. Like bunting and even running hard to first, it’s a lost art for all but a minority of players. Sliding is a feel thing – you have to have an understanding of what’s happening in a split second. While on TV the announcer Ron Darling correctly said that you have to be able to judge the carom, once you have committed to going, your thought process has to be “How can I avoid the tag at the plate?”
That was a very easy thing to do in this situation.
MICHAEL YOUNG DOES THE OLE
As it was all collapsing around the Rangers, the one play that could have saved things for Texas was A-Rod’s rocket to third with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. Michael Young, an excellent player, just gave it the wave at third. The ball went into left, two-runs scored and the Rangers were back on their heels.
While there now seems to be a belief that the ball was hit so hard that there was nothing Young could do, the reality is that a great third baseman has to do everything he can to block that ball, to keep it in the infield, to maybe get an out. To say it was “hit too hard” is a cop-out.
And that’s not to say he could have or would have stopped it. But it is to say that he simply waved at it and made no effort to get in front of an admittedly crushed baseball.
Hey, they don’t call it the “Hot Corner” for nothing.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, NEFTALI FELIZ?
I’ve never really believed the Bill James theory that there is no such thing as a closer. But I do believe that, in the right situation, you can and should bring your closer in a little early in a tough situation. So it was last night for the Rangers in the dreaded (for the Rangers) eighth inning. Reliever after reliever after reliever came in and literally couldn’t get anybody out. While manager Ron Washington said after the game that it never occurred to him to bring in closer Neftali Feliz because he never has pitched a six-out save, the reality is that Feliz had a four-out save in a game against Oakland that clinched a playoff spot for the Rangers (which game was more important, that game or last night’s game?).
In fact, Feliz pitched two innings in three different games this year. He got the win against the Yankees back in early August while pitching two innings.
That’s not to say that Neftali Perez should have or would have pitched two innings yesterday. But it is to say that the Rangers closer was lost in the bullpen while the Rangers were losing the game in the eighth inning.
But, hey, at least he’s well-rested for Game 2. It’s a decision that Ron Washington may regret.
BRETT GARDNER SLIDES HEAD-FIRST INTO FIRST
The play that set the tone for the Yankees’ game-winning eighth inning was Brett Gardner’s head-first slide into first, beating a late-to-the-bag CJ Wilson, who pitched an excellent game against the Yankees. It’s universally believed that you should never slide feet first into first – it definitely slows you down. But Gardner’s head-first slide gives you pause – it seems you might be able to get there a split-second faster by going in head-first. Gardner’s comments after the game were interesting – that it “depends on my steps” and how he feels going down the line prior to making his decision.
It’s the opposite of Nelson Cruz in the first inning – that is, Brett Gardner has a feel for when to slide, when not too slide, when to go in head-first, when not to go in head-first. Of course, C J Wilson almost knocked Gardner out for the series – according to Gardner, Wilson actually did step on his hand. But drastic times call for drastic measures so, in the right instance, I would have to agree that sliding head-first (not feet-first) might be, once in a blue moon, the correct play.
The difference in the approach to sliding between Nelson Cruz and Brett Gardner, as much as anything else, decided Game 1 of the ALCS.