Philadelphia’s bottom of the ninth inning Sunday against Cincinnati is, without question, the leader in the clubhouse for Inning of the Year 2013.
But the move makes some sense. Lee has hardly been incompetent on the basepaths. He had never been picked off, he had two steals in three chances, and he had scored from first on a double twice out of two tries — precisely what the Phillies probably thought they needed if they were going to break Chapman. Plus, with Young still fresh off an ankle injury, the Phillies probably didn’t think he could put on the burners like usual, and usual is bad enough.
Of course, the Phillies probably weren’t expecting much from Lee. Just two things: don’t get hurt, and don’t get picked off.
At least he managed the former.
It’s easy enough to read a right-hander’s pickoff move at first base. As soon as the front foot picks up, you’re clear to take a secondary lead off the base.
With lefties — ever crafty — it’s not so simple. As long as their front foot doesn’t go behind the rubber or go over a 45-degree line between home and first, they have the option of picking off or throwing a pitch. Obviously, Cliff Lee knows this, as a professional left-handed pitcher, but it addes an extra layer of complexity for Lee the baserunner.
Lee has reached base just five times in his career against left-handed pitching; as such, it’s probably fair to assume he hasn’t ran the bases against a lefty more than 10 times since 2002. It looks like Lee just fell into his normal routine against a right-handed pitcher — Chapman lifted his front leg, Lee took his secondary lead, and Chapman caught him easily.
The disgust from the announcers on both sides was beautiful. Reds play-by-play man Marty Brennaman eviscerated Charlie Manuel‘s decision to run Lee for Young:
“I was going to say (as Lee is picked off) I never understood, whenever I’ve seen it, I don’t care how bad a position player can’t run, to put a pitcher who has probably not been on base 10 times in the last 10 years is unfathomable, but thank you very much.”
Philadelphia’s booth was a bit more succinct:
[Chris Wheeler, Color Announcer]: “Oh, no…”
[Tom McCarthy, Play-by-play]: “Oh, and they’ve got Lee picked off. That’s the risk you run when you have the pitcher who is inexperience pinch running.”
[Wheeler]: “Where is he going?!”
[McCarthy]: “I don’t know”
[McCarthy]: “1-3-6-1 on the putout”
[Wheeler]: “There’s no reason to even move here. Wow. Well, at least he didn’t get hurt.”
Lee was quite unhappy with himself in the dugout.
Two pitches later, Erik Kratz hammered a full count fastball from Chapman over the left field seats to tie the game. Obviously, sans Lee’s blunder, a home run would have won the game. And he knows.
The Phillies had Freddy Galvis and the pitcher’s spot (likely John Mayberry Jr.) due up with two outs. The odds of scratching another run against Chapman looked slim. Galvis had five career home runs entering the game. Chapman had never given up two home runs in a relief appearance.
The way this inning was going, we all should have seen the walk-off home run coming. Chapman’s last pitch was just 95 MPH — hardly the fireball we’re used to seeing from him — and Galvis managed to get out in front of it and line it just over the 334 foot sign in the left field corner.
And who was there to greet him? Why, an excited, blurry Cliff Lee, of course.
Lee got bailed out by one of the unlikeliest possible events, but really the entire inning — from Chapman’s meltdown to Galvis’s blast to Delmon’s walk to Lee’s pickoff — was a classic exercise in baseball absurdity.
As such, I say this is the leader in the clubhouse as the wildest inning of 2013. And yet, despite the insanity, I have no doubt baseball will outdo itself before the year is up.