"You wanted the best, you got the best!"
— Paul Stanley of KISS
Ever since it became evident that Billy Hamilton would make it to the major leagues, those watching the Cincinnati Reds have wondered if Hamilton's legs alone could make a difference in a pennant race.
After one game, we already know: They have.
Hamilton's big-league debut went just as advertised Tuesday night, when he stole second base as a pinch runner in a fun and intense confrontation with Yadier Molina, and came around to score the tie-breaking run, which was enough for 1-0 victory for the Reds against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Cincinnati (78-61) closed to within 1 1/2 games of the second-place Cardinals in the NL Central, and stayed 7 1/2 up on the Washington Nationals for the last playoff spot in the league.
Hamilton set the minor-league stolen base record in 2012, surpassing the 29-year-old mark of Vince Coleman and finishing with 155 between Single-A and Double-A. He struggled to hit as well in 2013 at Triple-A, but still came away with 75 bags for Louisville. Just 22 years old, Hamilton is at one steal and counting in the majors.
With no score in the bottom of the seventh inning, Reds manager Dusty Baker subbed in Hamilton after Ryan Ludwick hit a leadoff single. Everybody knew what was coming next:
Dusty on Hamilton: 'I didn't send him out there to paint. It's not a secret.'
— ctrent (@ctrent) September 4, 2013
After rookie right-hander Seth Maness made three pickoff attempts, he delivered home and Hamilton sped to second. No matter that behind the plate was catcher Yadier Molina, who has thrown out 42 percent of baserunners this season and 44 percent for his career, Hamilton reached the base in time after sliding feet first.
A better throw might have gotten Hamilton. A perfect throw surely would have. But speed overcomes imperfection. Molina smiled. Next time, he probably said to himself.
Still, there was a runner at second — until Todd Frazier brought home Hamilton with an RBI double. Via the Associated Press, Hamilton relayed a conversation between himself and Baker just before the action started:
''He said, 'I need you to get to second base,''' Hamilton said. ''I was like, 'OK, I got you.' "
They're going to have that chat a lot this month.
For their part, the Cardinals knew what they were facing, but tried to not make a big deal out of it.
They had watched video of Hamilton to get ready for his debut.
''He was just another baserunner,'' Maness said. ''We know he's fast, but you treat him no different. Get the ball to the plate quick and make the throw.
''It was a bang-bang play. That's baseball.''