Deke Appropriately, Johnny Damon, Nelson Cruz

Damon Deked; Rangers Win

Baseball’s unwritten rules have an entire section on the propriety of deking, or making phantom (or decoy) plays to confuse baserunners into thinking the ball is somewhere it’s not.

At issue: an infielder who puts down a late tag can cause an unsuspecting runner into a late and awkward slide, which can lead to injury. We covered this a couple weeks ago when discussing Robinson Cano’s deke of David Wright in the All-Star Game.

(Not only did Cano do nothing wrong, he executed the play to perfection. His goal was not to get Wright to slide—Wright was in the process of doing that, anyway—but to delay his realization that the ball had actually been thrown into center field.)

When it comes to outfielders, however, pretty much anything goes. There’s nothing they can do, after all, to put a baserunner in any sort of peril.

Like Nelson Cruz, for example, who last week in Detroit acted as if he was about to catch a ball that landed well in front of him. It wasn’t a particularly graceful deke—little more than a quick stab skyward with his glove—but it was enough to keep Johnny Damon, who otherwise should have scored easily, at third base. (Watch it here.)

It’s hardly a new concept. From The Baseball Codes:

Jim Rice made a habit of treating many balls hit over his head at Fenway Park as if they would end up clearing the Green Monster by a mile, gazing up with detachment as the hitter started into his home-run trot . . . before racing to the carom and firing the ball in to second. “You could make a great video of all the shocked faces of baserunners who were cut down at second because they fell for this trick,” said outfielder Doug Glanville.

Ironically, one of the most noteworthy instances of an outfield deke involved Rice’s Red Sox—with Boston cast as the victim. It happened in 1978, during the one-game playoff between the Red Sox and the Yankees to determine who went to the American League Championship Series. Boston, trailing 5–4 in the bottom of the ninth at Fenway Park, had a runner, Jerry Remy, on first base with one out. Things appeared promising when Rick Burleson hit a fly ball that Yankees right fielder Lou Piniella lost almost immediately in a patch of sunlight. But Piniella never hesitated, casually acting from the outset as if he were going to make the catch. Remy, who should have made it to third base without issue, was forced to stay near first until he saw that the ball wouldn’t be caught, at which point he could advance no farther than second. When Rice followed with a deep fly ball that would have easily scored the tying run from third, the Red Sox sensed an incredible opportunity wasted. Boston’s final batter, Carl Yastrzemski, popped out to end the game.

Like Remy, Damon saw only a flash of what he thought was a developing play. It didn’t stop him entirely, but in a sport where runners are safe or out based on fractions of a second, it was enough to keep the run off the board. Considering that the Tigers and Rangers were tied 6-6 in the 11th inning, and a run would have ended it on the spot, it was a game-saver.

Cruz upped his performance even more in the 14th, hitting a home run that won it for Texas, 8-6.

Behold, the power of the deke.

– Jason

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