Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly took the term "defensive shift" to a new level on Friday night, successfully debuting an alignment we can honestly never recall seeing before.
With the game tied in the 12th inning, San Diego loaded the bases against Dodgers reliever Kevin Correia with one out, setting the stage for left-handed swinging Seth Smith to be the hero. Because Smith tends to pull the ball , the Dodgers usually put on a standard shift with an extra infielder taking up shop in short right field during his plate appearances. In this case, though, Mattingly decided to tighten things up even more with the winning run 90 feet from home plate.
Center fielder Andre Ethier was called in to the infield, which again is not all that unusual. Five man infields are used frequently in game-ending situations such as this one, because even a medium fly ball stands a good chance to score the winning run. It's a percentage play, with the extra infielder giving the defense a better chance to prevent the run.
What was unusual here is how the extra infielder was used and how the defense was ultimately aligned.
Now, this is a shift. pic.twitter.com/55I1lXERop
— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) August 30, 2014
That's four infielders on the same side of the infield, lined up "like a chorus line" as Vin Scully called it on the broadcast.
From left to right (or second base to first base): shortstop Miguel Rojas, second baseman Dee Gordon, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and closest to the bag is actually Ethier.
Standing all by himself at his third base position is Justin Turner, likely to protect against the bunt.
''I don't think I've ever seen that,'' Padres manager Bud Black said. ''I've seen the five-man, but not the four on one side. It was interesting watching the dynamic from the infielders to the Dodgers' dugout. Come to the ballpark, you might see something new.''
It was unique to say the least, but of utmost importance to Mattingly, it was also effective.
On the second pitch of the at-bat, Smith banged a one-hopper to Gordon, who in turn made a one-hop peg to home to catch the lead runner. Had it been a good throw home, it's likely an inning-ending double play, but for that moment anyway the shift helped keep the game alive.
“We’ve used the five-man infield before but never with four guys on one side,” Mattingly said. “With Seth we shift anyway so we just put another guy over there.”
Unfortunately, Yasmani Grandal took some of the shine off for Mattingly by following with a clean single through a normal defensive alignment on the right side, which gave the Padres a 3-2 win. But if nothing else, a new defensive alignment may have been born thanks to the Dodgers creative thinking.
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