Starlin Castro has for the duration of his career been criticized for an ongoing failure to pay requisite attention during the course of a baseball game. From forgetting the number of outs in an inning (which kept him from attempting to turn what would have been an inning-ending double-play against the Giants), to failing to slide into second on a stolen-base attempt, to facing the wrong way as his pitcher was delivering the baseball, the guy’s career has been a laundry list of mental lapses that temper an exceptional skill set.
The latest came on Friday—though to be fair, this time the All-Star had some help in botching things up.
That assistance came courtesy of Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. Castro, at first base, took off on a stolen-base attempt—itself a questionable move, what with the Cubs down five runs—as Josh Vitters singled to right. Phillips acted as if he were about to receive a throw from the shortstop for a play at second; despite Castro having the entire left side of the field in his direct line of sight, he somehow fell for it. (Watch here, at the 1:16 mark.)
Castro was deked into a full stop, and by the time he figured out what was happening and tried to motor to third, it was far too late. Xavier Paul threw the ball in to Phillips, who relayed it to third baseman Wilson Valdez, who tagged Castro for an easy out.
After the game, Alfonso Soriano said in an ESPN Chicago report that Castro “needs to concentrate more on the game.” This is undoubtedly true, but it also helps to understand the basics of Phillips’ misdirection.
“You know not to trust middle infielders—it’s their job to deke,” said longtime middle infielder Bip Roberts.
If Castro (a middle infielder himself) lost track of the ball between the plate and the spot in right field where it eventually landed, he always had third base coach Pat Listach (a former middle infielder) to clue him in. Then again, if a guy can’t be reliably counted on to face the game when fielding his position, it’s probably too much to ask that he pay attention to coaches when running the bases.
“A ball is hit, and I’m supposed to know where that ball falls at all times,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington. “If I run blind and get deked out, whose fault is that? Is that the infielder who deked me out, or is that my fault for not knowing what’s going on?”
Lonnie Smith, of course, was deked by Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch in the seventh game of the 1991 World Series—a play that likely cost Atlanta a vital run in a game they ended up losing, 1-0, in 10 innings. Smith, however, was 35 years old, a 14-year veteran and on the game’s biggest stage. Castro is only 22, and, one would hope, is still at the early end of his learning curve.
Still, said Cubs manager Dale Sveum after the game, according to MLB.com, “If you’re going to steal a base five runs down, you better [darn] well know where the ball’s hit.”