Larry Granillo of Wezen-Ball frequently strikes blog gold, but the innovation of the "Tater Trot Tracker" is pure platinum. It measures how fast (or slow) a player makes his circuit after hitting a home run.
One trot didn't make Larry's on Friday: That of Pittsburgh Pirates' "slugger" Lastings Milledge(notes). Unfortunately for his personal power totals, Milledge was bamboozled into believing his liner in the fourth inning against the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night had cleared the left-field fence at PNC Park for his first career grand slam.
Dead certain he had gone deep, Milledge raised his fist rounding first base, put his head down and went into a trot. Cool. Double-dog certain because the fireworks guy at PNC set off the pyrotechnics that explode every time a Bucs player goes deep. Music also began to blare. What a glorious moment for the Bucs! (And a fine way to continue recovering from the worst stretch of baseball anyone can remember them playing.)
Only, the ball had not cleared the fence. It hit the top and stayed in the field of play.
As Bucs announcer Bob Walk said, "Uh oh, uh oh, uh oh, uh oh — we got a problem here."
Milledge was not quite midway between second and third base when he realized the Cubs had him in a rundown. And, yeah, um, he was tagged out.
Score that a two-run double and a big ol' base-running blunder.
"I think that was the most exciting double in PNC Park history," Milledge said sheepishly. "It was my fault, and I didn't look at the ball. I was running hard, making sure that I had a double, and I looked up and all the fireworks were going off and I had a lapse for a second."
Milledge was lucky the Pirates had a big lead at the time and won 11-1. Most of the criticism coming his way was going to be good-natured. It could have been very harsh.
Some of it was, actually. Bob Brenly, on the Cubs broadcast, said this:
"Milledge thought he had a home run," Brenly said. "[He] was Cadillackin' around the bases with his head down... Play the game. Play baseball. I hate to see that even in the opposition."
Ooh, I might object to "Cadillackin' " — not only because Brenly used a luxury car as a verb but for a connotation that might be misconstrued as racist (so why go there?). However, Brenly was right about Milledge being in a slow trot. In fact, I'm the first to "boo," or mention how "you should always run it out, no matter what," or just shake my head at these kids today, when something such as this happens.
But I'm not gonna do it this time. Your honors, Circumstantial evidence exists — and we've seen some of it already — that ... well, it doesn't get Milledge off the hook. But it puts plenty of others up there with him.
• First, left-fielder Alfonso Soriano(notes). As the Cubs broadcasters noted, Soriano gave up on the ball, as if he thought it was going out. But, let's remember, it's Alfonso Soriano in left field. Don't believe anything you see out there.
• Next, the fireworks guy. This is a job that, like umpiring, we hold to a higher standard. Nobody's perfect, but when the fireworks go off and the music plays, it's almost always a home run. Yeah, Milledge should have looked up, but it's cooler and more humble to trot around the bases with your head down — everyone knows this.
• Further, the announcers for both teams were fooled. Here's Len Kasper's call on WGN-TV:
"Deep to left ... Soriano's gonna watch it go ... no, off the wall ... Milledge thinks it's a home run. That ball never went out ... He thought it was a home run. I did, too ... That's a big mistake for Lastings Milledge, even though the score (8-0) ... would indicate it doesn't matter. But you've got to run it out. Wow, that was a weird play."
• Pirates talker Tim Neverett:
"Milledge hammers one to left ... this ball is back, it iiiiiiis gone! — off the top of the wall. And Milledge thought it was gone. And he’s going to be tagged out ... The fireworks went off — they thought it was gone. My apologies, I thought it was gone. It was right over the State Farm sign. (Boo!) And I’m not sure if a fan reached for it or not. But it looked like it had the distance to get out. I for one am very interested to see the replay."
(It sounds like Neverett said, "The fireworks thought it was gone." Fireworks can't think, silly.)
But considering how many people thought Milledge went deep, he's not the only guy who should be sent to the doghouse.
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