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It seems like a simple play, and a mistake so basic as to be almost incomprehensible: Tie game in the bottom of the seventh. Gary Sanchez has just doubled and is standing on second base.
Miguel Andujar hits a rocket to short, 109.1 miles per hour off the bat.
To the naked eye, the ball is hit to Sanchez’s right. That means he’s not supposed to run to third. It’s a play taught in Little League.
Sanchez does try to advance. He is caught in a rundown and tagged out. The rally is over, the vibe dead, Sanchez embarrassed on the bases yet again.
But to manager Aaron Boone, the play was a bit more complex -- and not quite as ugly -- as it seemed.
Asked if there was any way to explain the decision to run to third on a ball hit to his right other than as a terrible mistake, Boone politely questioned the premise.
“Was it to his right or to his left?” he said. “It might have actually been … because the shortstop was moving to his left …”
Taking a closer look at the video, there were enough moving parts between Sanchez, Rays shortstop Joey Wendle and the baseball to at least validate Boone’s question. Sanchez was on the move at the same time the ball reached his general area.
As Boone was quick to point out, the speed and complexity of the action did not exonerate Sanchez. It just added a shade of nuance.
“Look, it wasn’t the right play,” Boone said. “But that one can be a little bit in-between sometimes, if the shortstop is moving to his left.
“Miggy hit the ball pretty firm, and Gary’s not the fastest guy in the world. It’s obviously a mistake read. He’s got to absolutely freeze on that. But that one’s at least a little more tricky than a ball that’s right in front of you in the hole, when the shortstop is moving to his left like he was.
So, because of how hard the ball hit and where the fielders were, the decision wasn’t as simple as it seemed?
“Exactly,” Boone said. “And that’s where your pre-pitch preparation has got to be on point. You’ve got to know where the fielders are, especially as players move around. As the count changes, players shift a little bit more.
“Obviously, you’ve got to know where the outfielders are, and the outfielders’ arms and things like that. But you also have to know exactly where the infielders are playing. And then, it’s play. You’ve got to make an instinctive read.”
It’s that moment -- what Boone called “it’s play” -- that has confounded Sanchez too many times lately. Whether the result of shaky instincts or pre-pitch preparation, Boone too often has to answer questions about awkward moments involving Sanchez and the basepaths.
This one could have been deeply demoralizing. Entering the night losers of four straight games and facing persistent questions about the viability of their offense, the Yanks held serve with the Rays for seven innings.
Sanchez’s double, which he followed with a pump of his fist that was as emotive as any gesture he offers in public, appeared to augur a breakthrough inning. Then, in an instant, Sanchez spoiled the vibe entirely. It wasn’t just a failed scoring attempt, but a reminder of what he and his team do poorly.
The Yankees are talented, championship aspirational, and far from dead. But they do weird stuff, more often than winning teams are supposed to.
This time, Clint Frazier saved Sanchez and the Yankees by hitting a walk-off homer in the 11th. Disaster was averted, this time. But Boone knows that he and his coaches must continue to teach Sanchez how to avoid future embarrassment on the bases -- however odd that might seem in reference to a seven-year MLB veteran.
“It’s just that fine line of not wanting him to be too restricted out there and start lacking aggression or fear of running into a mistake, but just making sure he’s really educated on where they’re playing him, what balls he can advance on and things like that,” Boone said. “So it’s just something we’ve got to continue to reinforce and drive home.”
The work continues.