Zack Granite Completely Missed First Base

Zack Granite is newly 25 years old, and less newly a rookie. Though he was drafted by and plays for the Twins, he was born on Staten Island and always rooted for the Yankees. He has a dog named Jeter. He grew up with the flourishing Yankees dynasty, and for some time it was all he’d ever known. I’m not sure, but it stands to reason that a younger Granite had an imagination. And I’m not sure, but it stands to reason that a younger Granite imagined one day helping the Yankees to win in the playoffs.

You could call it a cruel twist that, in Granite’s playoff debut, the Yankees should occupy the other dugout. Not that Granite was even supposed to play, but shortly after the beginning, Byron Buxton’s back started to hurt. Granite entered as the replacement, and he even reached on a sixth-inning single. In the eighth, he nearly reached again. With one out and none on, Granite’s speed might’ve opened the door just a crack. Granite would’ve stood on first base, after Tommy Kahnle couldn’t handle a flip. But Granite didn’t touch the bag. It was all more of a fly-by.

You can forgive Granite, for it was an innocent mistake. And you can forgive Granite, for the Twins weren’t going to rally. The difference in win expectancy between one on and one out and none on and two out there is two percentage points. Just one time out of fifty does that play matter, and that doesn’t even adjust for the quality of the Yankees’ deep bullpen. Had Granite been safe, the Twins still probably would’ve lost, and they still probably would’ve lost 8-4. I’m only writing this now because, otherwise, the moment will be forgotten. Other playoff plays will happen, more dramatic plays, more emotional and memorable plays. Over the course of the month, there will be events that take place some people will never forget. But, how often does a runner just flat-out miss first? That isn’t rhetorical. I really want to know. This feels, at the same time, both irrelevant and extraordinary. I don’t want to move past this so soon.

Here is the full play, as it happened.

On the one hand, Granite was supposed to be out. He tapped a weak ball in play, and with the pitcher covering, the throw beat him to the base. It wasn’t going to be all that close, as plays at first base are concerned. On the other hand, Granite kept sprinting, and he wasn’t only sprinting because this might’ve been his last at-bat of the year. We’ve all seen these plays go wrong, we’ve all seen pitchers fumble the ball as they try to find the bag, because pitchers aren’t very good at anything but pitching. Why would you expect them to be? Pitchers are specialists. They only fake it at everything else. They try their best, bless their hearts, but Kahnle covering first in the play embedded above is essentially you, only with a couple rehearsals. It just isn’t easy to do that many things at once. Granite sprinted, on the wings of a dream, and Kahnle made the mistake so many had made before him. Granite was safe.

Or, he would’ve been safe, but for making the mistake so few had made before him.

Given the replay, there could be no debate. The bag was right there. Granite’s feet were right there. Never did contact occur.

An inch, maybe two, it’s all that there was. It’s a distance so small as to be imperceptible, but the thing about touching the base is that the person who’s touching the base knows it. And the thing about instant-replay review is it makes honest men out of possible liars. Granite’s mistake was highly unusual, and even just a few years ago, that might’ve functioned as his defense. He might’ve argued the call on the basis of, who misses the base, anyway? Literally who ever does that? But Granite knew what he did, and replay has drained his word of its value. It wouldn’t matter what Granite would say. It would matter only what Granite’s feet touched. And in the year 2017, cameras are everywhere. Granite was out, and he accepted it, and he went for a walk.

As you might imagine, Granite came away less than pleased with himself. He did, at least, offer an explanation.

“I felt his momentum was taking [Kahnle] through the bag, and I was afraid I was going to step on him. And I just missed the base” with an extra-long stride, Granite said. “It was stupid. I should have stepped on him.”

In the moment, it’s hard to see what he means.

Kahnle is safely right there in his corner, and you don’t see that Granite’s body has any lean. That’s not the body language of one human attempting to physically avoid another. But reality is a blur, not a series of screenshots, and this wasn’t a usual play at first base. A runner always has to know where his feet will be stepping, and you don’t want to get caught around another man’s leg. Granite took a stride he might not normally take. He wishes today that he hadn’t.

“I’ve never done anything like that in my life,” Granite said. “It was freakish.”

It’s not an easy thing to Google other runners who have missed first base. It’s not an easy thing because there haven’t been very many of them. When it does happen, it’s more common that it happens with a runner on the way to second or third. The runner will simply cut too short, and then he can be out on appeal. I did find Nelson Cruz missing first base as recently as 2016. But even there, Cruz was facing a greater prospect of collision. He altered his course, deviating from a straight line, so he stepped down to the side of the bag. He didn’t go right over it. Granite went right over it.

One’s inclined to give credit to Starlin Castro. One wouldn’t normally equate Starlin Castro with situational awareness, but it was Castro’s quick tag that made the out possible. If Castro had simply picked the ball up and acted like normal, Granite would’ve been safe where he was, after all. For Castro, it seemed like a heads-up play, with his having noticed what Granite didn’t do. According to Castro himself, it wasn’t a moment of genius.

“I didn’t know if he missed the base. I just saw Kahnle miss the ball, and I tried to pick it up and tag (Granite) when he was running to the base. It was just reaction, and I didn’t even know that he missed the base.”

Castro applied a tag because, well, why not apply a tag? What’s the harm? Players tag other players even when they’re safe all the time. It’s practically a reflex, because there’s no cost, which justifies the infinitesimal upside. Castro slapped a late tag on Granite, but it only meant anything because of our real beacon of awareness: first-base umpire Mike Winters. Here’s Winters as Granite crossed the bag.

Here’s Winters when the tag was made.

The assumption on TV was that Granite was safe. The assumption from my seat was that Granite was safe. If you go back and watch the Cruz clip linked above, you see an early safe call, before Hanley Ramirez changes the umpire’s mind. Winters never signaled that Granite was safe. He signaled only that he was out, after he was out. When’s the last time you saw a baserunner go right over first base without touching it? Mike Winters was prepared. One should always be prepared.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Brandon Warnemember
6 years ago

I really wanted to believe he was trying to avoid a tag or collision at the base, but there’s really no way to come out of watching it over and over again while rationally believing that.