Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas
By now you may have seen the play a number of times: 2-1 Yankees, bottom eight, Nick Punto doubles off Phil Hughes to lead off and then Denard Span hits a chopper up the middle. Derek Jeter runs behind second and catches the ball as Nick Punto rounds third steamrolling towards home. Punto doesn’t see third-base coach Scott Ullger’s stop sign until it’s too late and Posada takes Jeter’s throw and throws out Punto at third.
For all intents and purposes, game (and series) over.
But there’s a lot more to this play then just a runner (and a smart one, by all accounts) rolling through a stop sign. Punto, a classy guy and very good player, took all the blame, saying he thought that, since the crowd was going wild, the ball had gone through and he would score the tying run.
BUT WHERE EXACTLY WAS THE THIRD-BASE COACH STANDING?
In the last 20 years or so, third-base coaches have, more and more, moved down the third-base line closer to home as a runner is coming to third. It didn’t happen like this decades ago but, over time, this method seemed to give a third-base coach an extra split-second to make his decision as to whether a runner should be sent home. A very tough job (often-times tougher than managing a team, see Kallas Remarks, 5/18/08), the third-base coach, unlike a manager, has to make instantaneous decisions (and can’t turn to his bench coach either).
But on this particular play, in the unusual instance where the middle infielder gets to the ball (as Jeter did), the location of the third-base coach almost halfway to home is a HUGE DETRIMENT to stopping a runner when and where he needs to be stopped (close enough to third to get back). Understand that when a runner nowadays is running to third and looks straight ahead, he can rarely see the third-base coach. He literally has to shift his eyes to his left to pick up the coach because the coach is nowhere near third base (in this case, Scott Ullger was about halfway to home).
Understand that in the “normal” situation (that is, when the ball gets through) where the coach does hold up the runner, the runner can make a huge turn and get back no problem. But in this situation (Jeter cuts the ball off and throws home), the runner has to know earlier and the best way to tell him would be for the third-base coach to be much closer to third.
Is this too picky? Maybe, and this is second-level stuff, but understand that this is the difference between having a chance to tie up the game and losing. If the third-base coach sees the ball go through, that’s one thing; but if the ball is caught in the infield, that’s quite another.
IS IT NICK PUNTO’S FAULT?
Of course it is but understand, in the rare situation that a middle infielder can get to the ball, a different (and quicker) decision has to be made by the third-base coach. While Punto deserves most of the blame, a different approach by Scott Ullger (that is, an approach where he’s near third base, not 40-45 feet down the line) may (not necessarily would) have allowed Punto to see the stop sign early enough to get back.
So drop most, but not all, of the blame on Nick Punto. But a third base coach should not be halfway to home BEFORE the ball leaves the infield. If he is, he risks the chance of his baser runner not seeing his sign. Would Punto have seen the stop sign if Ullger was closer to third? Well, we’ll never know, but he certainly would have had a better chance as he certainly had to look towards third base (not 30 feet to the left of third base) to actually touch the base.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
Well, there’s a few. Of course, Nick Punto can’t “assume” (his word) that the ball had gone through (obviously the crowd was cheering because there was no play on Span at first). Nor can Punto look over his shoulder into centerfield (that’s a sure way to lose a step and get thrown out at the plate if the ball did get through).
But the fascinating thing here is when (or, frankly, even if) a third-base coach should run forty feet towards home to give himself a better “angle” on the ball and his runner. In the case of Nick Punto rounding third in a huge game, the location of the third-base coach hurt a lot more than it could have potentially helped in the (somewhat rare) instance of a ball not getting through up the middle.
It’s unlikely that this will change the way coaches coach third, but some manager or coach who is a student of the game may see the replay of this play and understand what happened. We’ll see if it changes any coach’s positioning on these kinds of plays in the future.
© Copyright 2009 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.