Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina caught a runner stealing all by himself at the World Baseball Classic on Sunday night. Team Japan already had rallied for a run in the top of the eighth inning of the semifinal, and had put runners at first and second base with its cleanup hitter, Shinnosuke Abe, at the plate.
Saying later they were trying to take advantage of the slow delivery of pitcher J.C. Romero, the Japanese put the runners in motion, but the lead man — Hirokazu Ibata — went back to second base as Seiichi Ushikawa kept running toward the bag. After the pitch was taken inside for a ball, Molina held on rather than making a hasty and possibly risky throw across the diamond. Smartly, he herded Ushikawa toward second and tagged him out without making a throw at all.
Score it a "caught stealing — 2 unassisted," if you're scoring at home. It was a critical play in Puerto Rico's 3-1 victory that sent them to the tournament final. They'll face either the Netherlands or the Dominican Republic. Japan, the only champion in WBC history, goes home.
Ibata might have missed the sign, or he should have kept running to third, or Ushikawa should have looked up sooner and tried going back to first base. Whatever, it was a masterful job on Molina's part to not let the other team's confusion infect him.
Often when a rundown develops, even elite major leaguers will make too many throws, or their timing will be bad, or they'll throw to the wrong teammate and risk losing the gift out. Usually, the runner will be tagged out anyway, after the defense makes the unnecessary extra effort. But very often, a successful rundown can be accomplished with one throw — or even none at all, as Molina did.
Reporter Tyler Kepner in the New York Times has a nice feature on what Molina has meant to Puerto Rico's pitchers, and the team's run to the WBC championship game. And we can see with our own eyes what a great player can do on defense by keeping calm in a crazy situation.