King Kaufman's Sports Daily

In defense of J.D. Drew: Playoff teams are killing themselves with aggressiveness, but his failed attempt to score wasn't a terrible idea.


Salon Staff
October 5, 2006 8:00PM (UTC)

If there's a recurring theme to these playoffs it's teams running themselves out of innings. The Tigers and Twins both did it in their first game, and I'm sure you've heard about the Dodgers doing it in theirs, two base-runners in a row tagged out at home on the same play.

If you missed it, tune in to a baseball highlights show sometime in the next century.

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I'm usually not a big fan of boneheaded aggressiveness, running into outs and helping a struggling pitcher out, as both the Tigers and Twins did with steal attempts against the Yankees and A's. And I'm not fond of the "That's just how we play, we stay aggressive" rap managers employ afterward to justify sending those runners, as Jim Leyland of Detroit and Ron Gardenhire of Minnesota both did.

Aggressiveness is good, but not when it's just a euphemism for dumb, low-percentage plays, when it's just a label for impatience.

So it's probably going to come as a surprise when I say that I don't think J.D. Drew, the trailing Dodger runner who got tagged for the second out at home in the space of about three seconds, necessarily did a bad thing by trying to score Wednesday.

The headlines say the play cost the Dodgers Game 1 against the Mets at Shea Stadium. It might have, though it happened in the second inning of a scoreless game that ended 6-5. The rest of that game happens in a different universe without that play. The Mets might have won 13-3.

And make no mistake, Drew didn't try to score because he thought it was a high-percentage play. It was a screwup. But if he had gone because of a conscious decision, I don't think it would have been the worst decision in the world.

Put it this way: If Drew had been safe on the play, which is not an outrageous proposition, he would have been praised to the heavens for his instincts, hustle and aggressiveness. And I think rightly so.

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It can't be both ways. It was either a good idea to go or it wasn't. You can't say it wasn't just because it didn't work out. Good ideas sometimes don't work out. There's another team on the field, you know, and sometimes the other team makes a good play.

Drew had been on first, Jeff Kent on second when Russell Martin hit a slicing fly ball off the right field wall. Kent had hesitated, Drew hadn't, and Drew was right on Kent's tail as they both rounded third. Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca took a relay throw from second baseman Jose Valentin and tagged out a sliding Kent, then a sliding Drew for the first two outs of the inning.

Drew should have known where the ball was -- in Valentin's hand already as Drew rounded third. "Thank goodness Drew had his head down," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. Or third-base coach Rich Donnelly should have figured out a way to send Kent, which he had to do to avoid two runners ending up on third, and then stop Drew.

Kent, meanwhile, should have taken off sooner. Right fielder Shawn Green, who doesn't catch much, wasn't going to catch Martin's drive. Plenty of blame to go around, in other words.

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But Drew trying to score right behind Kent, who was a dead duck, wouldn't have been a bad decision had it been a decision. If Drew had just let Kent know he was coming, the Dodgers would have been almost guaranteed a run, which is more than you could say if Drew had stopped, leaving runners at second and third, one out and the bottom third of the order coming up.

A lot of things can happen on a play at the plate. If Kent slides wide and misses the plate, but Lo Duca misses the tag and has to chase him, Drew scores. If Kent knocks the ball away, they both score. Even if Lo Duca makes the tag in a collision, Drew probably has time to get home before Lo Duca can recover or untangle himself from Kent.

All Drew had to do was scream at Kent. "I wish he had yelled at me that he was about to eat my lunch," Kent told the Los Angeles Times. "Then I would've run into Lo Duca and bear-hugged him to let my man score behind me."

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Maybe a 38-year-old second baseman plowing into a catcher isn't the best use of aggressiveness either, but now we're getting into how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Drew screwed up and the results were terrible, but there have been worse base-running plays, and if Lo Duca had dropped that ball, typists from coast to coast would have had the name Enos Slaughter somewhere in their copy.

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Torii Hunter gets aggressive [PERMALINK]

Another example of aggressiveness-gone-wrong was Torii Hunter's disastrous dive that turned a Mark Kotsay single into a game-winning inside-the-park home run for the A's in Game 2 Wednesday in Minnesota.

With the score 2-2 in the top of the seventh, the A's had a runner at first and two outs when Kotsay hit a sinking liner to center. Hunter came in, dived for the circus catch and came up empty. The ball rolled what seemed like 47 miles to the wall and Kotsay came all the away around. The A's led 4-2, eventually winning 5-2.

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I still have never seen an inside-the-park home run that should not have been scored an error.

Hunter's a great center fielder, and his aggressiveness allows him to make all manner of spectacular plays. On this one the ball apparently knuckled on him and he missed it. He did the right thing later, falling on his sword, blaming himself for the loss. Any teammate who wanted to hold it against him would have to forget all those plays Hunter makes that most center fielders can't.

Still, as ESPN's announcing crew pointed out, in that situation, late in a tie game, two outs, go-ahead run on first, the outfielder's primary job is to keep the ball from getting past him.

In fact, the crew, Dave O'Brien, Rick Sutcliffe and Eric Karros, spent the whole rest of the game talking about how Hunter had made a mistake. "With two outs, the last thing you want to do is play that ball into a double," Karros said. A double. Never mind a two-run home run.

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So now the game's over and it's time for ESPN to hand out the Large Automaker Player of the Game award, and who do they name? Mark Kotsay! I love it.

Kotsay hit a single. The announcers spent the next 53 minutes talking about how Hunter had made a "critical mistake," in both O'Brien's and Karros' words, turning that single into a home run. And the Player of the Game is? Kotsay. Hey, he hit a home run!

Previous column: Fox's pregame idiocy

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