When Trea Turner singled to left field in the fourth inning of Friday night’s game, the Nationals rookie couldn’t help but notice the lackadaisical manner in which the Pirates’ Starling Marte got the ball back to the infield. Turner made a mental note, wondering if another opportunity would arrive later in the weekend to use that knowledge to his advantage.
“The base hit I had the other day, I saw the left fielder ... take his time,” Turner said. “When you hit the ball to left field, the middle infielders have their back to you, and a lot of the time the shortstop will cut off the ball not knowing where the baserunner is.”
So when the bottom of the 17th inning of Sunday’s marathon came around and Turner led off the frame with a single to left, he watched Marte closely. And then took off for second base to the surprise of everyone inside the ballpark.
Trouble is, Marte didn’t have to go into panic mode. Even with a calm and collected throw to the bag, he nailed Turner, sending groans throughout the park and leaving Turner to take a trot of shame back to the dugout.
There were plenty of reasons why the Nationals lost this game 2-1. And they had plenty of other opportunities to flip the result. But Turner’s baserunning gaffe was a particularly high-profile one, and the rookie couldn’t blame anyone but himself for it.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, take a chance,” he said. “Looking back at it, obviously dumb play because it didn’t work out. But that’s baseball, and you move on.”
Turner has electric speed, and his ability to make something out of nothing is among the reasons the Nationals promoted him from Triple-A Syracuse before the All-Star break, hoping he could inject some life into a club that sometimes relies too much on power to score runs instead of speed.
But the team wants its young infielder to be a bit more careful, especially in key situations like this.
“Turner is cursed by his own speed,” manager Dusty Baker said. “If he didn’t have speed, he wouldn’t have even thought about it. He probably won’t make that mistake again. But when you’ve got speed, you try things. That just wasn’t the right time to try it, especially with Marte out there.”
Indeed, Marte has one of the best outfield throwing arms in baseball, leading to 11 assists in only 81 games played so far this season.
Turner thought he spotted something in the All-Star left fielder and thought he could take advantage of it. Chalk it up to a learning experience for the rookie.
“It’s not a good feeling, but it’s a chance I took,” he said. “Looking back on it, it was bad. But I was aggressive, and I feel like that’s better than being on your heels. ...
“I know I screwed up. I know baseball. And to be aggressive in certain situations, and balls in gaps maybe you push it. We’ll talk about it tomorrow and go from there.”