Many who watched Ichiro make like Keanu Reeves in "The Matrix" with his "breakdancing" slide Monday night in Game 2 of the ALDS probably got a sense of déjà vu. TBS broadcaster John Smoltz was among them. But their mind wasn't playing tricks. They really had seen it before.
Nearly 20 years ago, Smoltz's teammate, pitcher Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves performed a similar dodge against the Pittsburgh Pirates. And Bucs catcher Don Slaught made the same mistake Orioles catcher Matt Wieters did: Rather than waiting at home for the runner to come to him, he chased Maddux all around home plate but didn't tag him until after he had scored.
In the Associated Press story published the following day, Pirates pitcher Bob Walk said he thought he was watching something out of the Stanley Cup playoffs:
"It looked like hockey. He's on a breakaway and he's trying to fake out the goaltender."
The date: May 5, 1993. The place: Three Rivers Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pa. It was the spring after Sid Bream's infamous slide in the NLCS narrowly eluded Mike LaValliere, sending the Braves back to the World Series and turning away the Pirates, who were only beginning the most frustrating period in modern team history. Stars such as Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Doug Drabek had left and the Bucs were on their way to the first of 20 straight sub-.500 seasons. Maddux and the Braves were actually struggling to stay at .500 themselves, but they'd figure it out, and head back to the playoffs/win the Cy Young anyway.
But they'd irritate the Pirates at least one more time.
With one out in the third inning of a scoreless game, Maddux reached on a single against Bob Walk and went to second on a grounder by Otis Nixon. Jeff Blauser followed with a line-drive single to center, and Maddux got a good jump before rounding third. Outfielder Andy Van Slyke came up throwing and fired to Slaught on the fly — but his throw was to the first-base side of home, putting Slaught in position of having to reach and dive to tag Maddux.
"I had nowhere to go. I wasn't ready to run him over and I wasn't ready to slide," Maddux said.
So he improvised, jumping over the tag attempt and making a U-turn before standing his ground momentarily. Then, like Deion Sanders returning a punt, Maddux juked to his right to avoid another lunge by "Sluggo" Slaught, who fell briefly to all fours. Seeing his chance, Maddux dived for the plate and slapped the upper-right-hand corner with the fingers on his left hand — on the arm closest to Slaught, who had gotten up to make one more fruitless lunge.
Maddux said he thought about playing it cool after his initial jump, but quickly determined a ruse wouldn't work.
"At first I thought, 'I'll just walk away and everyone will think I got the plate.' But Slaught knew, so I tried to [fake] him out."
Umpire Jeff Kellogg signaled safe, and Maddux can be seen exclaiming something like "Fun, yeah!" Slaught and Walk (who was standing over the plate, almost like an umpire, as this went down) pleaded, but they had been toasted by a base-running master. The Braves led 1-0, but they didn't score again and fell 4-1 to the Bucs.