Some of you are still writing in to me via email asking how last night’s key fifth inning play could have happened to the Mariners. Namely, how did two Angels manage to tag up and score on the same fly ball out?
First, let me set this straight: Eric Thames had to catch the Mike Trout fly ball to right field. It was most definitely going to land in fair territory and when an outfielder is sprinting that fast towards the corner, he doesn’t have time to stop, assess the foul line and make a judgement call about what to do next. He has to catch it.
So, that part was OK and there was no way to prevent Howie Kendrick from tagging up and scoring from third.
It’s what happened next that caused the problem.
Photo Credit: AP
Thames told us after the game that his first instinct was to spin and throw the ball to second base. Not to cut-off man Dustin Ackley, but to Brendan Ryan who was covering the bag at second.
The thinking behind that was, with the bases loaded, Thames is going to let Kendrick score, let Erick Aybar take third, but he didn’t want Chris Ianetta moving up from first to second base, where he’d be in scoring position for a ground ball up the middle or something.
Here’s the problem.
The moment the Angels’ third base coach saw Thames look to throw to second, he waved Aybar around third base. And that, in a nutshell, comes down to Thames needing to have a better grasp of the situation, of the speed Aybar possesses and of just how deep into the corner of the outfield the Trout flyball had carried him.
You can see from the quality of the throw that Thames made — sort of a no-man’s land short hopper between both Ackley and Ryan — that he did not have time to stop and properly set himself before heaving the ball back in.
Even if Ryan had managed to come up with the ball on a hop or two, there’s no way he would have been able to turn and throw Aybar out. I’ve watched the entire play on replay from several angles today and agree with the official scorer’s decision. Yes, there was an error on Thames, but no, it had nothing to do with Aybar scoring.
The error that enabled Aybar to score was the decision process used by Thames.
Had he thrown the ball to cut-of man Ackley, the third base coach likely would have ordered Aybar to stop. If not, the more direct throw might have arrived to Ackley in time for him to turn and nab Aybar at the plate.
But like I said, the third base coach has since stated that the only reason he waved Aybar around in the first place was that he saw Thames was about to make the longer throw in.
That’s what manager Eric Wedge was talking about last night. About Thames showing more awareness. Thames needed to realize just how deep he had gone for the ball and assume everybody was going to try to move up one bag and likely make it. The best thing at that point is to limit the damage, not try to be a hero and just get the ball back in to the cutoff man as quickly as possible so that nothing bizarre happens.
Thames was at least trying to think when he made his throw to second. It’s not the worst thing that he thought about keeping a second runner from going into scoring position.
The problem is, the thought process failed to take Aybar’s speed, or his own outfield depth into account.
Another part of the learning curve. We’ve seen a few.