It is a decision made by the third base coach that comes up sometimes two or three times in a game: when to send the runner.
In the first inning with two outs in a scoreless game Saturday night against the Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Zimmerman at first, Michael Morse doubled to right field. Zimmerman raced around second and as Hunter Pence gathered the ball, Nationals third base coach Bo Porter held up Zimmerman at third. The next batter, Laynce Nix struck out looking to end the threat.
After Philadelphia plated two in the fourth to take the lead, the Nationals had a chance to rally in their at-bat in the bottom of the inning.
Zimmerman led off with a single and Roy Oswalt walked Morse. After an out, Jayson Werth singled to left. Third base coach Bo Porter sent Zimmerman this time, but he was thrown out at the plate by outfielder John Mayberry and the tag by catcher Carlos Ruiz. Danny Espinosa struck out to end the inning.
The choice to send a runner depends on so many factors. Porter has to calculate all these factors in a split second. He chose to send Zimmerman with one out and this time it did not work.
Should Porter have been aggressive? Nationals manager Davey Johnson thinks so. That is the way he wants to play.
“By and large, (Porter) is pretty cautious,” Johnson said. “Zimmerman is a good base runner and got a good jump. The ball was hit awful hard. (Mayberry) threw a perfect strike. If the ball is off the line at all, he scores.”
“I like being aggressive. I will never get on him for being overly aggressive.”
You can also speculate as to why the decision was made because of what was happening in the game. The Nationals had managed only four hits against Oswalt and were now down 2-0. The situation was different from the first inning when there was no score and the Nationals threatened. How many more chances would the Nationals get?
However, one part of the play did bother the Nationals’ skipper. He would have preferred that Morse and Werth move up on the throw home.
“The only thing on that play that I was upset about was that the trail runners didn’t read it, and say ‘hey, there is a play at the plate, I am going to third and second’. When there is a play at the plate, you keep running.”
That point also falls in the category that Johnson always adheres to in his managerial philosophy: be aggressive and use your offense to outscore the opponent. The play is not always going to come to you, sometimes you have to go out and make the play.
You can see it in the personality of Porter as well. This is a guy that was aggressive in every sport he played. In college at Iowa over his four-year playing career in football, Porter blocked 10 kicks as a defensive back on special teams.
It is a decision that can change the game. It didn’t work out Saturday night for the Nationals, but you can see that Johnson will live by the sword and die by the sword instead of sitting back and waiting.
Yes, the argument can also be understood that you shouldn’t challenge a shallow hit to left field with less than two outs. The other side of the argument could be that when are you going to have a better chance to score?
Morse had no problems with Porter’s decision to send Zimmerman on the Werth base hit, considering the limited chances available against a hit pitcher like Oswalt.
“Oh, that is great,” Morse said. “Especially games like this and team’s like that. You got to try to score any way possible. You might as well (go for it), always send him.”