It was an ugly night for Cleveland for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, they lost Game Six of the World Series. Second, they allowed nine runs. Nine.
Third, Tyler Naquin happened. In a variety of ways. What does that mean, exactly? First, there was this Bull Durham-esque snafu in the first inning.
Kris Bryant had already gone yard with two outs in the first inning. Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist had followed with singles. Addison Russell, as shown above, then poked a very catchable fly ball out to right-center field. We may never know what temporary madness possessed Naquin at this moment. We do know that he didn’t grade out as a very good center fielder this year, nor did possess the most sterling defensive reputation before his ascension to the big leagues.
From the looks of it, there was some miscommunication with Lonnie Chisenhall about who would be catching this most important third out. Baseball dogma states that it is Naquin’s job as the center fielder to make the play when there are two or more fielders converging on a ball. Perhaps Naquin and Chisenhall couldn’t hear each other over the roar of the crowd. Perhaps Naquin’s nerves got the best of him on the biggest stage in his sport. Perhaps a particularly devilish Cubs fan out in the stands screamed out “I got it!” and for the first time in history, it worked.
At this point, the Cubs had scored three runs, not nine. The game wasn’t completely out of reach on paper. But it certainly felt that way. Runs surrendered by means of good hitting don’t feel nearly as bad as runs surrendered as a result of a Marx brothers impression in the outfield. Runs surrendered in this manner make the team look incompetent, even if the team is playing in Game Six of the World Series. They take the air out of the stadium.
This wasn’t even the only play in the outfield that Naquin made interesting. Chisenhall charged in on a fly ball, and so did Naquin. Chisnehall caught it, but Naquin tumbled over behind him as if he were struck by the lightning of the gods.
just thinking about life (and/or death) pic.twitter.com/U84Eq04y2L
— Emma Baccellieri (@emmabaccellieri) November 2, 2016
Naquin laid there, staring at the sky, wondering what was happening to him. Playing in the World Series has to be stressful above all else, especially for a rookie. Baseball is hard, and big-league baseball is even harder. World Series baseball is the game at its absolute highest level. Who among us hasn’t had an embarrassing moment at work? Naquin did. His moments just happened to come on national television that was presided over by Joe Buck and John Smoltz.
Perhaps this was all on his mind in the bottom of the fourth inning when Naquin came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. The Cubs had scored their seventh run by that point, and Cleveland had scored their first. A hit here would likely result in at least two runs. A home run would make it a two-run game. Naquin was taking the most important plate appearance of the game.
It didn’t end well. Naquin was overpowered by a 95 mph Jake Arrieta sinker on the outer third of the plate, as so many have been before. Arrieta strode off the mound without giving the rookie much of a second thought. There were only four innings in the books, and Naquin had already had one of the most embarrassing games in recent World Series history.
We shouldn’t take this as a sign of Naquin’s value as a player. He had a fine little rookie season, hitting .295 and putting up 2.5 WAR while getting the lion’s share of the playing time in center field for a team that made the World Series. He was partially filling the shoes of Michael Brantley, one of the game’s best players and arguably the best position player on the team over the previous two or three seasons. Naquin has not had an easy job from the outset. He made it this far.
Tyler Naquin had a bad night, an awful night, one which he’ll try his hardest to forget. None of it will matter if Cleveland wins tonight. This is the beauty of the game.
It may matter more than a little if they lose. This is the horror of the game.
We’ve all had bad days at work. This may have been Naquin’s worst yet.
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.