PHILADELPHIA — The Washington Nationals were trailing by two runs in the top of the ninth inning Friday night when Danny Espinosa broke for second on Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. Espinosa was thrown out by Erik Kratz and the game was over moments later when Kurt Suzuki and Chad Tracy struck out.
After the game, Nationals manager Davey Johnson was critical of Espinosa for the play.
“(Papelbon’s) pretty slow to the plate (and) he’s given the green light, stay out of the double play,” Johnson said. “I don’t like the decision, obviously, because the next hitter comes up (Tracy), they’re going to be playing behind him. So, we’ll address that tomorrow.”
Turns out, though, that was not the case. So what happened on that play?
Espinosa was not planning to steal in that situation. His run alone, he knew, was relatively meaningless given the two-run deficit.
The Nationals were going to attempt to stay out of the double play, though, with Suzuki — a ground-ball hitter — at the plate. And they knew that if they could get Tracy up, the Phillies would then play behind Espinosa and he could take second base on defensive indifference.
But Espinosa was given a sign to steal by third base coach Bo Porter, who controls the Nationals’ running game. So he did what he was told.
Papelbon is an extremely slow worker and the Nationals had clocked him at about 1.5 seconds to the plate once he came set. That would be enough time for Espinosa, a good runner, to steal in most situations.
But Papelbon was faster Friday night. He was clocked closer to 1.3 seconds, according to the replay of the pitch, and Espinosa was just beaten by a good throw from Kratz.
Johnson did not know that Espinosa had been given a sign when he met the media on Friday night, leading to the belief that Espinosa was running on his own.
It was a high-risk, low-reward move that didn’t work out. Porter told Espinosa as much and said that the blame for the decision was on him. If it works out, though, there’s a good chance questioning it — even with the game situation — does not happen. That, of course, is the beauty of hindsight in baseball.