LOS ANGELES — Just one question. Make that two.
Why in the heck was catcher Luke Maile covering third base in the sixth inning Friday night at Dodger Stadium?
And how did he get there?
Dodger DH Max Muncy was on first base with one out and the score tied, 1-1, when Cody Bellinger sent a grounder to deep second base. Andres Gimenez, who had put on a defensive clinic until then, overran the ball. He retrieved it, but his throw to first was late as Bellinger reached on an error.
The play took a while to develop, which gave Muncy a chance to go from first to third. It was a good idea because the defense was shifted to the right, meaning third baseman Jose Ramirez was playing shortstop. The hot corner was unprotected.
First baseman Josh Naylor saw Muncy take a wider than usual turn at second, which led him to believe he was going for third. Naylor came off first and threw to third, but he wasn’t quite sure if anyone was going to be there to catch it.
Maile, however, arrived just in time to take Naylor’s throw and tag Muncy, who had to be shocked to be erased by a guy wearing shin guards. Zach Plesac retired the next batter to preserve the 1-1 deadlock that eventually became a 2-1 victory in 10 innings for the Guardians.
“I thought Maile covering third and Naylor’s throw probably saved us right there,” said manager Terry Francona. “They go from a heads up baserunning (play) to we doing something that’s heads up. That was huge.”
Maile knew the defensive shift left third base uncovered, but he had to weigh several options before deciding sprint to third.
“Sometimes it gets tough because you don’t want to vacate (the plate) in case the ball gets totally through (into right field), like on a long single,” said Maile. “You don’t want to be retreating back to home. You have to pretty sure. Sometimes your eyes just take over and you just do it.”
Maile added a little more depth to situation.
“A lot of people have seen that play a million times,” he said. “But every one of them is different. There are different runners. There’s different scores. The same ball being hit a foot left or right is going to dictate where the third baseman is playing. You just have to have instincts. That’s all it was.”
Maile said the number of outs came into play as well.
“It was a good play on Muncy’s part, especially with there being only one out,” said Maile. “When there’s nobody out or two out, it’s less likely they’ll be that aggressive. With one out, you have to really anticipate they’re going to try and get to third base with less than two out.”
How excited were the Guardians about the play? Catchers Austin Hedges and Maile were demonstrating how it was done in the middle of the locker room when reporters walked in. They were loud and having a good time.
“He saved the game right there, to be honest,” said Naylor. “If Muncy is on third with Bellinger on first, Bellinger can steal second and you may not throw down to second. It changes the game. I think that won us the game right there, him being there.”
Catchers make their living knowing exactly how each pitch a pitcher throws is going to move. When Maile reached third, he had no idea how Naylor’s throw would move. That worried him, but there was no need.
“It was the most beautiful four-seam fastball that I’d ever seen,” said Maile. “I’d never caught a ball from Naylor. If I have, it has only been a couple.
“The ball caught me, it was that good of a throw. It had some zip on it. It was back spun. It was nice. If he was standing closer, it would have hit me in the throat. That’s how surprised I was at how accurate and straight it was.”
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