Sunday, June 24, 2007

In Baseball, Believing Is Seeing

By DAVE ANDERSON
Sports of the Times
June 25, 2007

One of the beauties of baseball is that anytime you watch a game, there’s a chance you will see something you have never seen before. Early in the Mets’ 10-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics yesterday at Shea Stadium, José Reyes provided the 50,143 in attendance with something that probably none of them had seen before — not an inside-the-park home run, but definitely an inside-the-park run home.

Leading off the bottom of the first inning, Reyes, the Mets’ swift shortstop, blooped a fly ball down the right-field line with enough hang time that, even though Oakland right fielder Jack Cust fielded it cleanly, Reyes was sprinting for a double. As he slid into second, Cust’s throw went high and wide of shortstop Bobby Crosby and bounded across the outfield grass, then across the left-field foul line.

Realizing that left fielder Shannon Stewart still had quite a way to go in chasing down the ball near the rolled-up blue tarpaulin in front of the box seats, Reyes scrambled to his feet and took off for third base, where the Mets coach Sandy Alomar Sr. waved him home. The Mets’ next batter, catcher Paul Lo Duca, signaled for Reyes to slide; Stewart’s throw was late, and Reyes scored standing up.



Maybe you or somebody else has seen that exact play — a double and a two-base throwing error — but in more than 60 years of watching big league baseball, I never had. Neither had any of the Mets’ elder statesmen.

“Probably not,” said Mets Manager Willie Randolph, who was a second baseman for six teams over 18 seasons, including 13 with the Yankees, before spending 11 seasons as a Yankee coach. “It’s probably happened somewhere, but I don’t remember ever seeing it. That’s what speed does for you. Especially José’s speed. He always sets the tone for us.”

Alomar, who never hesitated in waving Reyes around third base, is in his 47th season in professional baseball; he was a major league infielder for 15 seasons, a major league coach and minor league manager. He has seen somebody circle the bases and score in a somewhat similar situation, “but not exactly like that,” he said.

“José’s the type, he’s very exciting; he changes the face of the game,” Alomar said. “If he learns to be patient, he’ll be even better. When he gets on base, he can’t run on the first pitch. He has to learn to know the catchers and the pitchers’ moves. But that play, no, I never saw it before. Not exactly like that.”

Howard Johnson, the first-base coach who hit 38 home runs for the Mets in 1991, didn’t have to tell Reyes to try for a double. Asked about Reyes’s inside-the-park run home, he laughed.

“I never saw that outside of a Little League game,” Johnson said. “But a Little Leaguer wouldn’t slide into second, then get up and score; a Little Leaguer would just keep running. But what José did wasn’t unexpected. He’s so instinctual, he’s in a class of his own.

“I’ve seen great base runners — Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman — but I’ve never seen a guy with the instincts to take the extra base like José, a guy who’s always looking for the extra base.”

Tom Glavine, the 41-year-old left-hander who has won 296 games in 21 seasons with the Braves and the Mets, agreed that he had never seen anyone score the way Reyes did.

“Not that same way,” he said. “Something similar, yes, but not the same way that José did it. Usually there’s another error somewhere in the mix.”



Julio Franco, the Mets’ 48-year-old pinch-hitter who played in Japan, Korea and Mexico in between all his seasons with the Phillies, the Indians, the Rangers, the White Sox, the Indians again, the Brewers and the Braves, shook his head when asked if he had ever seen that exact play.

“I never saw it quite like that,” he said.

Not in Japan, Korea or Mexico?

“No,” he said with a smile. “No.”

Reyes’s slide into second made what he did so different, if not unique. When a hitter circles the bases in an inside-the-park situation, he doesn’t usually stop at first, second or third. But Reyes slid into second, then had to get up and hurry to third. And he had the speed to keep going and score.

“When I saw the ball on the left-field line, I knew I had to go home,” he said, “but I was out of gas at third base, and when I scored, I was real tired. I was never that tired before. Lo Duca was saying, ‘Down, down,’ but I make it standing up.”

On a drive to deep center field late last season against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Reyes raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run, but he said he was “more tired” yesterday, from this inside-the-park run home that maybe nobody ever saw before, at least not in the same exact way.

And if you watch baseball, you will often see something you have never seen before. And may not ever see again.

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