Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead

Is The Ninth Inning, With A Big Lead, The Time To Steal A Base? Gleyber Torres Thinks So

After Gleyber Torres stole second base last night with Yankees leading Tampa Bay, 9-3, in the ninth, some people, including Pedro Martinez on the TBS broadcast, intoned that he was disrespectfully trying to run up the score. In order to determine whether this is actually the case, we must first identify a key component of the play: Was Torres just playing hard, was he being a boor or was he sending a message? All three options are in play.

Playing hard
Tampa Bay went 8-2 against the Yankees this season, accounting for nearly all of their seven-game division lead at season’s end. None of those eight wins were laughers, though the Rays scored the winning run in the eighth two times, and once in the ninth. Late-game comebacks are possible, and in a five-game series, every run counts.  

Being a boor
The Yankees don’t like the Rays, and the Rays don’t like the Yankees. Kevin Kiermaier said so. This dates to at least 2018, when CC Sabathia drilled Rays catcher Austin Romine with a half-million-dollar fastball, then kept up the antagonism the following season. More recently, this past September, New York and Tampa Bay traded inside pitches and HBPs to the point that dugouts emptied and Aroldis Chapman and Aaron Boone were suspended.

Could Torres have stolen the base because he doesn’t like the Rays? Of course. Did the fact that he did it against Shane McClanahan, a guy making his major league debut, serve to further roil the Tampa Bay dugout? Could be.

Sending a message
The game was tight until the ninth, when Giancarlo Stanton’s grand slam off of Rays reliever John Curtiss gave the Yankees their six-run cushion. Curtiss—who by that point had given up two singles, two walks and Stanton’s homer, five runs in all, while recording only one out—threw his second pitch to the next hitter, Gio Urshela, high and tight. Torres, batting next, got a similar treatment.

Were those pitches intentional, borne of frustration? Given Curtiss’ struggles, that’s a strong possibility. The right-hander is coming off the finest season of his short career, during which he issued three walks all year. It’s reasonable to think that walking two guys in the span of four hitters during his first-ever playoff appearance, followed by a back-breaking homer, might have jumbled his emotions at least a little bit.

It’s also reasonable to think that Torres might have taken it precisely that way.

On the broadcast, Martinez did not hide his feelings, calling the steal “a terrible mistake” and intoning the maxim about “respect the opposition because you expect them to respect you.”

For that notion to hold water, Torres’ motivation would have to fall under one of the first two headings above. If what he did was actually a response to those inside pitches, however, the idea of respect is muted. Martinez, one of baseball’s prime intimidators during his Hall of Fame career, understands this as well as anybody, though he speaks from the perspective of someone who dished out far more in this regard than he took.

Should Torres ever decide to talk about why he did what he did, then perhaps we’ll know more. Until that point, it’s mainly a matter of waiting to see if the Rays respond, and how.

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