Deke Appropriately, Deking

Pedro Florimon, Master Magician, Offers Sleight-Of-Hand Clinic to Trea Turner

Florimon deke

Dekes—fielders making runners think that something is happening on the field that’s not actually happening—can be marvelous things.

In baseball’s unwritten rulebook, they are only problematic when they put somebody in danger—primarily in the form of a late phantom tag, laid down when the ball is actually someplace else, forcing a runner into a hurried and awkward slide.

Barring that, however, the play can be a wonder to behold. Take, for example, Philadelphia shortstop Pedro Florimon, who last Saturday retired Trea Turner with some delightful trickery. The Nationals were down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning when Turner drew a leadoff walk and, on the first pitch to the next batter, Matt Wieters, took off for second.

The trouble for Turner was that Wieters popped the ball up to second base. The other trouble for Turner was that he never peeked toward the plate to gauge what was happening. Thus, when Florimon drifted to the bag as if to receive a throw from catcher Andrew Knapp, Turner had little reason to disbelieve that Florimon was actually receiving a throw from catcher Andrew Knapp. The shortstop even punctuated the act by laying a tag upon the unsuspecting baserunner as he stood atop the bag.

Second baseman Cesar Hernandez, meanwhile, was able to complete the easiest double-play of his life, finishing the play while Turner was still in a state of puzzlement at second. (Watch the whole thing here.)

“Usually, I hear the ball off the bat, so a lot of times if I hear it, I’ll look up,” Turner said after the game in a Washington Post report. “I didn’t hear it that time.”

It is the responsibility of every baserunner to have a handle on whatever situation he finds himself in. Failure to glance plateward cost Lonnie Smith in the most famous deke of modern times, in the 1991 World Series, and it cost Turner last weekend.

It’s likely not a mistake he’ll ever make a second time.


Deking Propriety

The deke (short for “decoy”), while infrequently used, is an infield staple. It involves a fielder acting as if he has the ball when it’s somewhere else on the field, in an effort to confuse baserunners into awkward hesitation.

Think Chuck Knoblauch, the Twins second baseman who, during Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, acted as if he was fielding a ball that had actually been driven into an outfield gap. His goal was to confuse Braves runner Lonnie Smith, who had been on first base. It worked; Smith was delayed enough to force him to hold at third on a double, and the Twins won, 1-0, in 10 innings.

There are, however, downsides to this ploy. The Code states unequivocally that infielders are never to put down late tags in instances in which they don’t actually have the ball. I explained it in my recent Q&A with the New York Times:

As an infielder, there’s a rule against throwing down delayed phantom tags (dekes in baseball parlance, short for “decoys”), which can cause runners into late, awkward slides with a significant potential for injury. Padres infielder Derrel Thomas did just that to Gene Clines in 1973, throwing his glove down at the last moment as Clines steamed in from first on a stolen-base attempt. The fact that the pitch had been ball four, giving Clines the right to the bag anyway, made the play patently ridiculous. Clines tore ankle tendons as the result of a hasty slide, and never fully recovered. Clines said that Thomas “did have a reputation for doing some things on the field that weren’t the way you were supposed to play the game.”

When it’s done well, however, it’s a thing of beauty. Edgar Renteria utilized a phenomenal deke in the Giants’ game against the Phillies Tuesday, that was the polar opposite of Thomas’ play on Clines.

Ryan Howard had doubled into the corner, and was taking his time loping into second—not noticing that right fielder Nate Schierholtz was hustling to the ball. Renteria could see all of this from his position, but chose to simply stand near the base, arms at his sides. His body language told Howard that no play was imminent.

When the throw arrived, however, Renteria sprung to get it, and slapped a tag on Howard’s backside. (Watch it here.)

Howard later called it a “mental lapse,” but the success of the play owed just as much to Renteria’s heads-up deke.

– Jason