Is this Little League? Rundown blunders abound this week in baseball

The art of the rundown, in recent weeks, has been less Leonardo da Vinci-realism-with-paints and more my-2-year-old-scribbling-with-melty-crayons. 

It has not been pretty, especially for the teams throwing the baseball around the infield. 

The gaffe in the Pirates-Cubs game near the end of May was an all-timer. Even now, I still feel for Pirates first baseman Will Craig, who to his credit faced the music and admitted his mistakes a day or so later. We’re not going to harp on that one today (here’s a full recap of the “You’ve gotta be kidding me” play).

No, we’re going to look at three different Yakety Sax rundowns — two that were disasters for the team with the gloves, and one that wasn’t an end-of-the-year highlight for the team on the base paths. Thing is, all three happened this week!

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Two on Wednesday (Marlins-Cardinals and Orioles-Indians) and one on Thursday (Blue Jays-Yankees). Let’s go in chronological order.  

June 16: Marlins at Cardinals

The setup: Bottom of the fourth, 0-0 game. One out, runner on third (Tyler O’Neill). Yadier Molina batting. 

The play …

The breakdown: Sandy Alcantara, the pitcher, makes a nice snag of the Molina grounder, and alertly sees O’Neill, who was running on contact, breaking home. He quickly gets the ball to catcher Jorge Alfaro, exactly as he should have. O’Neill slowly jogs back toward third, giving Molina adequate time to safely get to first base. After a couple slow steps, O’Neill sees that third baseman Deven Marrero several steps in from third base, and Alfaro has yet to get rid of the ball. You can almost see O’Neill think “Well, if they’re not gonna throw it, I can make this” as he turns on the jets and sprints, then dives back to third. Alfaro finally flips the ball to Marrero, but it’s far too late for Marrero to even attempt a tag.

What should have happened: Alfaro has to get rid of the ball sooner. And then when he waited too long, he should have thrown it to Jazz Chisholm, the shortstop who was standing at third and might have actually had a chance at a tag. 

The repercussions: The miscue didn’t cost Alcantara even a single extra pitch. Let’s say they tagged O’Neill out; it still would have been a runner-on-first-two-outs situation. The next batter, Edmundo Sosa, grounded into a double play on the very next pitch. Inning over. 

June 16: Orioles at Indians

The setup: Bottom of the third, 3-2 game (Orioles leading). No outs, runners on second and third. Jose Ramirez batting.

The play …

The breakdown: Both runners score easily on a line-drive single by Ramirez. For some reason, he takes off for second as Austin Hays makes the throw toward home plate, despite Baltimore first baseman Trey Mancini being in perfect cutoff position, basically right in front of Ramirez. Sometimes, mistakes work out. Mancini throws to shortstop Freddie Galvis, who’s standing at second base, forcing Ramirez to retreat to first. Galvis runs him back toward first, then throws to second baseman Pat Valaika, who’s in the proper spot. Ramirez sprints toward second, and instead of Valaika trying to dive and tag him, he for some reason flips the ball to Galvis, who’s standing still basically behind Ramirez by the time he gets the ball. Third baseman Maikel Franco was late backing up the play as proper rundown rules dictate, so Valaike couldn’t throw him the ball. And because Franco is now at second, there’s nobody at third, because catcher Pedro Severino wasn’t there. So Ramirez sprinted to third. 

What should have happened: So many things. Things haven’t gone so well for the Orioles on the road lately. Valaika should have dove to tag Ramirez. Franco should have gotten to second base sooner. Severino should have been at third.  

The repercussions: Instead of the bases empty and one out, if Ramirez had been tagged out, there was a runner on third and no outs. Cleveland wound up scoring five runs in the inning; the final score was 8-7, Cleveland. 

June 17: Blue Jays at Yankees

The setup: Top of the first, 0-0 game. No outs, runners on second (Bo Bichette) and third (Marcus Semien). Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., batting.

The play …

The breakdown: Guerrero hits a tapper to the right of pitcher Michael King and is thrown out at first. Because the ball was hit in the direction of third base, Semien retreated back to third base. Can’t make the first out at home plate, obviously. Bichette, though, sprints toward third, too. “Oh, there’s a situation at third,” Yankees play-by-play broadcaster Michael Kay says. D.J. LeMahieu, the first baseman, throws behind Bichette (for some reason), forcing Semien to essentially give himself up and run home. Semien slows up and gets caught in a rundown, buying more than enough time for Bichette to get to third safely. But Bichette’s first move is back toward second (again, for some reason). He finally heads toward third as catcher Gary Sanchez throws to third baseman Gio Urshella, who tags out Semien, then whirls around to throw to shortstop Gleyber Torres, who’s alertly covering third. Bichette slides into the third out. 

What should have happened: Bichette is a very good player, having a very good year. This was not his finest moment, putting it kindly. Bichette should have stayed near second when the ball was hit, to see what Semien was going to do. He should have sprinted to third the moment Semien intentionally got caught in the rundown. He did neither thing.

The repercussions: Basically, everything Bichette did on this play was wrong, and his actions led directly to an inning-ending triple play, when the Jays should have had runners on second and third with one out. And, fun fact: This was the first 1-3-6-2-5-6 triple play in baseball history. 

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