Kyle Gibson called it a “learn-by-failure” situation on Saturday, which is about all the Twins do this season.
The righthander also took the blame for a defensive lapse that set up Boston’s tie-breaking run, but honestly, it’s hard to be critical. Xander Bogaerts’ baserunning play was a bit of brilliance rarely seen. “Electrifying,” Red Sox manager John Farrell marveled.
With the game tied 4-4, Bogaerts singled to lead off the sixth inning. With David Ortiz coming up, the Twins quickly shifted heavily to the right side, with third baseman Trevor Plouffe moving to the right side of second base. Ortiz obliged the Twins’ strategy by slapping a sharp ground ball toward right field, seemingly an automatic double play. But things got crazy in a hurry.
Brian Dozier made a sliding stop in the ball, but it momentarily bounced out of his glove. Dozier recovered in time to flip the ball to shortstop Eduardo Nunez at second base, and the double play appeared routine — had Bogaerts slid into second.
But he didn’t, and his baseball savvy changed the game. Seeing the brief bobble, Bogaerts quickly calculated that he might be able to beat the throw if he sped up and rounded the bag, rather than slow down by sliding. And since no Twin was covering third base, he could easily get there.
“Never broke stride,” Farrell said. “Once he saw Dozier bobble the ball, he was without a break in his stride, without a slide. It turned our dugout on, because you don’t see it often. Just a great heads-up baserunning move.”
It was a play that Gibson frankly admitted had never occurred to him before.
“Never have I seen a guy round a base and really didn’t care about sliding at all. If he was safe, he was going to make it to third,” Gibson said. “Unfortunately, there’s nobody to blame but me, really. There’s nobody that can cover third base in that situation other than myself. It’s kind of a learn-by-failure, really. It’s a play I’ll remember for awhile, and I’ll do my best to not let it happen again.”
Manager Paul Molitor wasn’t blaming Gibson. After all, on a ball hit to the right side, pitchers are trained to head toward first base in case they have to cover that bag. “We’ll work on that, [we’ll] talk about rotation. It’s a hard play for the catcher to get there, [and that’s] really your only option to try to prevent that. But it goes back to fielding the ball cleanly. If you field the ball cleanly, it doesn’t become a factor.”
Maybe so, but even in that case, Bogaerts had nothing to lose by not sliding. If he was called out on the force play, what’s the harm in overrunning the bag?
Should Dozier have simply thrown to first? Ortiz was still out, since Nunez relayed the ball to Byung Ho Park at first base, but Molitor figured that not trying to turn the double play wouldn’t have mattered, either. ”Even if we take the out there at first, there’s a good chance he’s going to try to outrun us to third,” Molitor said. “I don’t know if it crosses your mind when you bobble the ball, if you think you still have a chance to get the out at second.”
The play was simply instinctual, Bogaerts said, not something he planned. When he saw Dozier’s tiny bobble, he knew he had a chance. “After I saw Dozier miss the ball, I’m like, ‘No one’s going to be at third. No way the pitcher is going to remember [to cover],” Bogaerts said. “If I slide, If he catches it, it would have been a double play. But once he missed it, I just knew [there was] no chance no one was going to be there, because Nunez was the last guy close to that side, and he was on the base.”
This being the Twins, the play immediately paid rewards. Hanley Ramirez lifted a fly ball to left and Bogaerts easily tagged up and scored the tie-breaking run. And the Twins knew they had been outsmarted.
“For the offense to battle back, to get four runs back, was pretty impressive,” Gibson said of the Twins’ rally from a 4-0 deficit. Bogaerts’ play “kind of took the air out of our bubble.”
That play will be something the Twins talk about and practice, especially next spring in Fort Myers. Bogaerts hopes it has a more immediate impact.
“Hopefully, [teams will] stop shifting” with Ortiz at the plate, Bogaerts said, “and then he’ll start getting his regular hits that they kind of rob from him.”