The Dominican Republic hadn’t lost a game in the World Baseball Classic since 2009. They’ve been a juggernaut, an unstoppable force barreling through immovable objects. That ended last night when Puerto Rico beat them 3-1 in a game that was much wilder than its score would indicate. One of the more dazzling plays was Javier Baez putting a no-look tag on Nelson Cruz on an ill-advised steal attempt.
When we say ill-advised, we really mean it. For one, Yadier Molina was behind the plate, and Yadi has been of the best in the business at throwing out baserunners. Cruz can only really be called a baserunner because of the fact that he does, in fact, technically run between the bases, even if “lumbering” may be a better verb for this scenario. Cruz is a large, 36-year-old adult human being. He hasn’t recorded a positive baserunning figure since 2010. Whatever speed he once possessed (24 steals in Triple-A in 2008!) is almost entirely gone.
There’s also the factor of Baez, who has revealed to the surprise of many that tagging is a real skill. So, yeah, we’re not sure why Cruz was running here, especially with two outs and an 0-0 count on Adrian Beltre. But run he did, and well, this happened.
Baez didn’t even look at Cruz. He was pointing to Molina and grinning like a kid on Christmas before he even caught the ball. You silly, silly man, he’s probably thinking to himself. Thanks for the free out. Cruz is out by a mile, and Peurto Rico gallops off to the dugout. Goddamn, Javy Baez. Goddamn, Yadi. Jeez, Nelson Cruz.
But hold on a second, here. Slow-motion video affords us the chance to take a closer look at plays like this. It also affords us the chance to make complete and utter fools of ourselves, as I may be about to do here. But I’ve been writing here long enough for all of you to get used to that by now, so hang with me here for a second. Let’s roll the film again.
This isn’t an episode of CSI, so I can’t tell the lab tech to enhance the video and clean up the pixels. I can, however, tell you that the umpire was on the shortstop side of second base, and that his view of Baez’s glove was obstructed by Cruz’s legs and tookus. And here’s a warning, because this is about to turn into a bad knock-off episode of CSI.
The law of inertia tells us that an object will remain at rest or on its current trajectory unless acted upon by an outside force. An outside force could be the wind, gravity, or a sliding Nelson Cruz. Baez’s arm shoots straight down as soon as he receives the ball, and hangs there for Cruz to run into. It’s absolutely possible that he grazed Cruz’s knee, and that this is all a lot of hot air. I look forward to you telling me I’m wrong in the comments, because I’m almost definitely wrong. Playing umpire from home is a bad idea.
Where were we? Not Australia, but inertia. Baez’s arm remains in the position he put it in until Cruz slides into it. If we watch the slow motion angles of the video, we see that his arm doesn’t start recoiling until it comes into contact with the area around Cruz’s belt, and not with his knee. Now, because Baez is a very strong man, it’s possible that his arm wouldn’t react much to his glove being grazed by Cruz’s knee, and would only move perceptibly when that same glove made contact with Cruz’s torso. But look at where Cruz’s foot is when Baez’s arm starts to recoil.
Every time I watch this replay, though, I’m more and more convinced that Cruz really might be safe. I’m being influenced by my own biases. If you could see me right now, you’d probably notice a faint resemblance to the crazed mad scientist from a bad movie version of Frankenstein. But man, Javy Baez made this a lot closer than it had to be. This isn’t to criticize Baez for being jubilant and celebrating. Baseball is better when players showboat and make the game entertaining. The unwritten rules largely stink. Baez’s showboating may have given Cruz a stolen base, though. Thankfully for Baez, the umpire didn’t see it that way.
There’s no way of knowing for sure whether Cruz was safe. More likely than not, he was out. But this play really wasn’t the one-sided slaughter it appeared to be, and Cruz really might have been safe.
But I’m also probably wrong.
Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.