Thursday, October 05, 2006

Baseball again: two runners out at home.

An amazing, unusual thing happened in the Met's playoff game last night. Two Los Angeles runners were heading to home plate, about forty feet apart, and Valentin, the Met's excellent catcher, tagged them both out. If you want to know how this unusual situation arose, please read the papers or catch some sports commentators on TV. But none of these sources will tell you the most amazing part of this play, so I'm going to explain it to you right here.

The basic situation is that the batter hit the ball against the right field wall, and the right fielder threw it back toward home. Meanwhile, a slow runner on second and a fast runner from first were heading home. Valentin is looking to his right, where the thrown baseball is coming from. He's not allowed to block home plate until he actually holds the ball, so he's a little to the right of home plate. He knows a runner is coming home. The moment he catches the ball, he spins to his left - and there's the runner coming to him - and he tags the runner out.

Now picture the important part. In making this tag, Valentin has spun around so that he's facing the stands behind home plate. If he just stood there feeling good for one second, the other runner would score. But he's a smart player. He knows there are two other runners on the bases, and who knows what they're up to. So he immediately spins back around and looks at the field and - you can see he's surprised - here comes another runner whom he tags out.

That second out looked so easy that the commentators were struggling to explain why that runner tried to score. But it was Valentin's "smarts" that made the runner look bad. Many another catcher would have relaxed after that first out and never caught the second runner.

By the way, suppose those two runners had approached home plate just a few feet apart? What might have happened? (The more you know about baseball's arcane "interference" rules, the more fascinating this question gets.)

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