These days, you rarely ever see a pitcher involved in a play at the plate when he’s the guy barreling towards home trying to score.
Teams seem to go out of their way to protect their hurlers, and that generally includes avoiding situations in which the pitcher might be forced to lay a shoulder into a catcher or somehow end up contorting his body in an attempt to touch home plate safely.
Here’s the situation: There are two outs in the bottom of the second, and Jackson stands on second base. He had reached on an infield single two batters earlier, a play in which he got to show off his impressive speed. Jackson might be a pitcher, but he’s an athlete, as well, and has even been used as a pinch-runner a handful of times in his career.
Bryce Harper rips a single through the hole on the left side, and as Jackson reaches third, he sees Porter telling him to make a turn for home.
“You see the third (base) coach waving his hand, you’re just thinking run,” Jackson said.
Phillies left fielder Domonic Brown, just called up from Triple-A on Tuesday, scoops the ball cleanly and fires home. Catcher Erik Kratz - all 6-foot-4, 255 lbs. of him - is there to corral the throw and has the plate blocked off perfectly. All Jackson can do is slide right at Kratz, try to knock the ball free and hope that he doesn’t crash into Kratz’s bulky shin guards.
The Nationals’ starting pitcher is called out by home plate ump Ted Barrett, ending the inning with the Nats’ No. 3 hitter, Chad Tracy, standing on deck. The Nats failed to score the rest of the night, and lost 3-2. Had Jackson been held at third, there would have been runners at the corners with two outs and Tracy coming to the plate.
Again, most third base coaches probably hold most starting pitchers in that situation. But with two outs, if it’s a regular baserunner rounding third, the situation dictates that the third base coach could push the issue and force the left fielder to make a great throw.
The way the Nats see it, Jackson isn’t most starting pitchers, and even though manager Davey Johnson’s initial comment on the play at the plate was that Kratz is a “pretty big guy to be running into,” he didn’t have a problem with Porter waving home his pitcher in that situation.
“He such a good baserunner, and I know Bo knows the way I feel: If there’s ever any doubt, send him,” Johnson said. “I want to know. I’m sure probably in retrospect, he probably would ... I’d never seen that guy (Brown) throw and I don’t think Bo’s ever seen him throw either. He made a heck of a throw to get him.”
Jackson didn’t have a problem with the play, either. If anything, he appreciated not being treated like a porcelain doll in that type of situation.
“It’s fun, you get to become an athlete,” Jackson said. “If you’ve come up a position player, it still feels normal sometimes. It’s definitely a part of the game that I don’t mind.”
Looking back on Jackson’s outing, you might wonder if that play at the plate affected his performance on the mound. Before his dash toward home and very minor collision with Kratz, Jackson had retired six of the seven Phillies he had faced and failed to give up a hit. After being tagged out at home, the Phillies hit nearly everything hard, notching three runs and having 11 guys reach base over Jackson’s next 3 2/3 innings.
Jackson denied that the baserunning play at all played a factor in his outing. He enjoyed the opportunity to run the bases like the athlete that he is, and wasn’t about to make excuses for his results on the mound.
It was a play you don’t often see in the majors these days. Still, no one on the Nationals was about to say it was the wrong play to make.