Cleveland Indians designated hitter Edwin Encarnación has many strengths as a baseball player, but speed is not one of them.
In fact, statistically speaking, the 35-year-old truly is one of the slowest players in all of baseball. Last year, the slugger ranked 420th out of 465 qualifying players when it came to sprint speed, as he averaged just 25.6 feet per second, according to Sports Illustrated.
So it was more than a little surprising to see Encarnación hit an inside-the-park home run Monday night against the Los Angeles Angels.
Encarnación came up to bat in the top of the second inning with one out in a scoreless game. Then, on an 0-1 fastball from JC Ramirez, Encarnación swung hard and pulled the ball down the left-field line.
Angels left fielder Justin Upton chased after it, but was unable to make the catch. The ball bounced off the top part of the wall, only staying fair by a matter of inches.
Upton, though, must have thought it was foul, because he didn’t immediately chase after the ball as it rolled away from him.
Encarnación put on the jets as soon as he realized the ball was still in play. He raced around the bases as fast he could, and when Upton missed the cut-off man as he tried to get the ball back to the infield, Encarnación was able to score standing.
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) April 3, 2018
It was a truly memorable moment, particularly for a player who has hit his fair share of dingers (351 in his career), but who rarely has to put that much effort into a home run.
“I was too tired,” Encarnación said after the game, according to USA Today. “I just see the ball and when the ball go away from Upton, I said in my mind, ‘I’ve got to make it to the plate.’ It was a lot of running. But I like it. It’s good.”
Encarnación’s extra effort convinced third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh to send him to the plate, according to MLB.com.
“I felt he was in a good spot,” Sarbaugh said, “because he was giving it a good effort at that point. So I knew he felt like he had a chance. Once I saw when Upton picked the ball up, I just felt good about being able to send him, just the way he had to pick it up and throw it in. I knew it was going to be a tough play.”
Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn’t Encarnación’s first inside-the-park home run. Back in 2007, when he was a Cincinnati Red, he also hit one. Of course, Encarnación was a lot younger then, and a bit faster, as he stole eight bases that year.
Meanwhile, the last Indian to hit an inside-the-park home run was Tyler Naquin, who did it in walk-off fashion against the Toronto Blue Jays in August 2016.
“That’s a lot of praise for Edwin,” Naquin said. “That man’s hit a lot of homers. It’s not easy to get an inside-the-park home run, so that obviously says Eddie’s running hard. He plays the game the right way and he showed up. You’re either going to have a triple or a homer in the books. Doesn’t matter how you get it.”
When he got back to the dugout after scoring, Encarnación’s teammates greeted him with high-fives and a towel to the face
“It was fun. Everybody was laughing about it. Everybody enjoyed it. That’s good,” the Indians slugger said.
One person who wasn’t laughing was Upton, he later said he had no idea the ball was fair.
“I thought it was going to either hit in the stands or I was going to have a chance to catch it. The wind just swirls in the stadium. That’s just how it goes,” Upton said. “Most balls that go foul end up drifting back a little bit. That one just came back more than usual.”
The Indians ended up beating the Angels 6-0.
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