Under most circumstances, mention the phrase “double play” to a baseball fan and he or she will get a mental image of a ground ball to either side of second base, a runner on first getting thrown out at second, and then the throw beating the batter down the first base line, 4-6-3 or 6-4-3 in your scorebook depending on which side of the infield it got hit to.
Challenge the fan to something more advanced — a double play without putting the ball in play — and you might think of the classic “strike ’em out, throw ’em out” in which there is a runner on first and two strikes on the batter. The batter swings or looks at strike three, the catcher pops up and hoses the runner trying to steal second, one pitch, two outs, no contact.
But if you really want to get into a doctoral-level double play, you’ll have to feast your eyes on a weird turn of events in the second inning Tuesday at Wrigley Field.
The Atlanta Braves got two Chicago Cubs out not just on one play but with the pitched ball having no effect on the outcome of either of the outs:
One fan on Twitter helpfully assisted those scoring at home, correctly pointing out that it was a CS 2-5-6 DP.
People, it wasn’t a strikeout. It goes down as a
CS 2-5-6 DP.
— STL Sports – Stanley Cup Champions (@b_scott_STL) June 26, 2019
After Cubs pitcher Adbert Alzolay whiffed on a bunt attempt, the runner at third, Javier Baez, was tagged in a rundown after catcher Brian McCann threw the ball to third baseman Josh Donaldson; Baez was considered to have been caught stealing home.
Donaldson then threw to shortstop Dansby Swanson, who was covering third, to nail a second runner, Willson Contreras; he too was considered to have been caught stealing.
This was just an absolute mess all around by the Cubs, because when you consider the flow of the inning, you realize just what a terrible series of decisions by literally everybody involved in the play led to the two outs recorded.
Pitcher Max Fried had walked the bases loaded with one out. When the opposing pitcher can’t find the strike zone with a map and you’ve got the top of the order behind you, just keep the bat on your shoulder and see if you can’t take ball four yourself to force in the run.
Then there’s the problem of bunting with the bases loaded.
Drop the ball in front of the plate, the catcher fields it and gets the force at home so you’ve got the bases loaded and two out.
Push it down the third-base line, the catcher fields it and tags the runner out, same wasted out for nothing gained.
If you’re lucky, you’ll put the ball either down the first base line or far enough out to where the pitcher rather than the catcher has to field it and Baez crosses the plate safely, but in terms of risk and reward — we haven’t even considered that the catcher, after getting Baez out, could force out either Alzolay or Contreras as well with a throw to first or third — it’s the wrong play. You don’t need advanced stats to know that; it’s intuitive.
Beyond that, there’s the matter of Baez falling asleep on the basepaths, getting caught trying to get a good jump on the bunted ball. While it’s understandable — you want to beat the catcher to the ball in case of those first two scenarios described from the batter’s point of view — the pitcher wasn’t throwing good pitches to hit, and it’s a beast to get a bat on a ball for a bunt when the pitch isn’t in the strike zone.
Put simply, Baez should’ve stayed home, waiting for the sound of contact to be his cue to run.
But even after being caught in a rundown, Baez didn’t hustle; he surrendered, giving the defense enough time to recover and get Contreras, who was the only guy who did a thing right on this play insofar as you’re supposed to advance behind a rundown on the assumption that your teammate will delay the play long enough to give you time to go the 90 feet between bases yourself.
And just to add a final insult to the proceedings, the TV play-by-play man pointed out that Contreras sure looked like he was safe at third. Cubs manager Joe Maddon didn’t bother to challenge, letting the seemingly missed call stand without a replay that may have overturned it.
C’mon, Joe, that is exactly what replay challenges are for, why the defeatism?
And in the ultimate came-back-to-bite-them moment, the Cubs went on to lose 3-2.
Little League coaches should show that video to kids they’re coaching as a prime example of what not to do on the basepaths. The Cubs just did stuff that 12-year-olds know better than to do on a baseball diamond.
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