The Fluky, Freaky First in Toronto

The second game of the Texas-Toronto ALDS ended in a memorable fashion, the Rangers surviving a razor-thin review of a potential third out to score two in the 14th and hold off the Blue Jays. This ended up obscuring the memorable way it began, with a top of the first replete with odd incidents. Had it not begun in this memorable way, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t have ended as memorably, so let’s look at all the weird stuff that happened.

The first four Rangers batters reached base, thanks largely to three misplays in the field that resulted in just one charged error. First, Jose Bautista gloved a long fly by Delino DeShields Jr., but lost it on impact with the right-field wall, giving DeShields a double. Two batters later, with a 1-0 lead, Prince Fielder’s ground ball up the middle hit a seam in Rogers Centre’s turf and kicked high, off the top of Ryan Goins’ glove for a single that put runners at the corners.

The first big play, though, was Mitch Moreland’s subsequent grounder to first base. Moreland threw home to hang up Shin-Soo Choo midway from third—and this happened:

Setting aside the result for a moment, Choo probably did well to put himself in that pickle. If Choo is put out, with runners ending up at first and second, his Rangers have a 63.2% chance at victory (using The Hardball Times’ WPA Inquirer). Should he hold at third, the Blue Jays only need better than a 36% chance of turning the double play to get the Win Expectancy better than that. (58.8% WE for Texas if Toronto gets two vs. 65.7% if there’s just the force.) To my eye, Toronto definitely had a better chance than that of turning the two.

This does not count the chance that Choo can extend the rundown long enough for the runners behind him to take extra bases. It certainly does not count the chance that Russell Martin puts the ball past Josh Donaldson. There is always a little extra percentage in forcing the defending team to make a play.

Texas manager Jeff Banister may have been thinking along those lines when he next had Elvis Andrus try to bunt the runners over to second and third. Doing this with an average batter would have shaved Texas’s WE down from 75.6% to 75.4%. But first, Andrus with a 77 wRC+ for the season is notably below average. And second, Banister could have been hoping to pressure Toronto’s scuffling defenders into yet another miscue, something that could have sent the Blue Jays emotionally reeling.

Andrus did not get the bunt down, but eventually made a groundout that moved the runners over anyway. And then there was … Prince Fielder.

Prince Fielder has had this kind of problem in the postseason before. Over at THT, I have written about these problems before. In Game Two of the 2012 World Series, he was thrown out going first-to-home on a no-out double, puncturing an early rally in what became a 2-0 Giants win. This was a bad result, but possibly not a bad decision, and was really third-base coach Gene Lamont’s responsibility anyway.

The next year, in Game Six of the ALCS, Fielder and Victor Martinez were on third and first with no outs when Jhonny Peralta hit a soft grounder. This time, it was Fielder’s baserunning decision, and a dreadful one:

If you watched that clip and the last, you may be feeling deja vu all over again. Fielder hangs himself up in the twilight zone between third and home, as an opposing infielder freezes him, makes a nice tag play to get one out, then gets Fielder, who barely tries to return to third, for another.

Both times, Fielder’s team was ahead when he made his blunder: 2-1 then, 2-0 now. Both times, the opponent came back to knock them out of the lead: the Red Sox would win, but the Blue Jays did not.

This is three times in his last three postseasons (he missed 2014 with Texas) that Prince Fielder has made a consequential out on the way to home plate. Given that it’s Prince Fielder, we ought not be shocked. What is shocking is the way he got himself put out the last two times. There is a difference between baserunning speed and baserunning smarts. One can be slow, yet savvy about when to go and when to stay. Prince Fielder is proving, when the eyes of millions are upon him, that he is not one of those folks.

Granted, Fielder’s foul-up didn’t cost his team the game, in the way that those defensive miscues might have cost it for Toronto, but it did alter the game’s trajectory. It snuffed a Rangers rally that had Toronto back on its heels, and with a little nudge could have buried the Jays early. It ended up keeping the game close enough that Toronto could tie it up, then tie it again, then take it into extras, then take it deep into extras. For those added five innings of playoff baseball, we can be thankful.

Unless we were rooting for Toronto, but in that case we were already grateful he hung himself out to dry. So we’re all winners. Some just won more than others.

A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.

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8 years ago

Toronto’s turf has a bad reputation around baseball, and in these 2 games we have had Beltre’s back injury, and a turf seam hit, which may be related to the field conditions.

8 years ago
Reply to  Orsulakfan

You crazy?

Beltre hurt himself on the dirt and none of the funny-moving balls are unique to turf. Grass, dirt, and spin cause weird bounces all the time on normal turf

If anything, the artificial turf is more predictable.

8 years ago
Reply to  jianadaren

The thing is that the “dirt” he injured himself on is just different-colored turf

8 years ago
Reply to  MelkyTheMonkey

no it’s actually dirt. grounds crew comes out to rake and level it halfway through the game.

8 years ago
Reply to  MelkyTheMonkey

Yeah the home hardware cleanup crew comes out but the infield isn’t actual dirt:
That article mentions how they hope to install a dirt infield soon, implying that they haven’t yet done so

8 years ago
Reply to  MelkyTheMonkey

It’s dirt. The dirt that they want to put in next year is for the rest of the infield, not just the bags.

Pete Rose
8 years ago
Reply to  MelkyTheMonkey

It’s dirt alright. After the game I got special permission from Donaldson to test it out. Slid head first into the batter’s box. Nothin but dirt! Got a mouthful to prove it.