June 27, 2008

The Aaron Miles non-slide, stumble, tumble ... OUT!

An early June 4thebirds post from another network:

Going to pick on one of my favorite Cardinals today--Aaron Miles. Unfortunately for Mr. Miles, a current lapse of base running skills gives us an excellent example of what not to do in close plays at home plate.

And now that the goof-up is over and done with, we as fans can learn from the mistake. Miles probably figured out everything that went wrong somewhere about when we was upside-down and rolling over with his spikes pointing toward the Cincinatti sky.

First of all, when heading for home plate in a situation where the potential throw may be coming, realize that most of these throws are coming from an angle whereby your view will be severely limited. In last night's case, the throw came from directly behind Miles. Now, this gives you a clue that since there's no way you can be sure of how close a play there will be, that you might want to consider sliding, just in case. To continue my sarcasm, heed this base running rule of thumb on potentially close plays at the plate: When in doubt, slide.

Teammates near home plate can help as well. As a base runner, you should always have the on-deck batter positioning himself to assist you with verbal and hand signals. In Miles case, Rick Ankiel was the on-deck hitter, and positioned himself in an acceptable fashion so that Miles could see him. In these situations, "picking up" Ankiel was what Miles should've been doing.

Other assistance can be given by any and all base runners who happen to have crossed the plate ahead of time. In last night's case, this was Skip Schumaker, who gave a better hand signal for Miles to slide, although he wasn't in the best of positions as far as line of sight for Miles. In other words, if Miles had bothered to look in the first place, he might not have seen Schumaker on this particular play.

The next problem, and this one isn't Miles's, was that the signals to an oncoming base runner at home plate where there could be a play, should come from the on-deck batter, all the time. This is because there may or may not be a base runner that has crossed the plate prior to the base runner with the potentially close play. But there will always be an on-deck hitter, so for the sake of consistency, the on-deck hitter should be used for assistance.

So Miles had made the ultimate mistake of not sliding, and base runners are often tricked by good catchers who stand by, waiting for the throw, but acting as if there is no throw coming at all. To prevent such tactics from making you look silly, apply the aforementioned rule: When in doubt, slide.

Now it's time for the What-ifs. Let's say Miles does slide, as he should have.

No guarantee Miles will be safe, but on the play last night, had he applied a strong slide, he more than likely would've knocked the catcher's left foot clear of blocking the plate, thereby allowing a "home free" slide, in plenty of time to beat the tag.

Another "what-if." Had Miles slid safely, he very well might've upset the catcher (instead of the other way around), either dislodging the ball or making him miss the throw completely. Ryan Ludwick could've the advanced to third, or possibly came around to score himself, depending on where the ball might've strayed off to, considering the following important aspect of the play that even FSN Midwest announcers Al Hrabosky and Dan McLaughlin missed. If you've seen the play, or the many replays, notice that Reds' pitcher, Cueto, is so taken in with the action of the play, he doesn't bother to back it up. On such a play, a pitcher hustles to a position in foul territory, behind the plate, in line with the throw, or where he believes an "off-throw" is heading, just in case. Cueto's play was just as sloppy as Miles's. Cueto never left the area of the mound, but got away with his mistake, so common to youth leagues where 10-year-olds are just learning how to back up a base.

These plays do matter, even when you win by a huge score like 10-0. Why? Imagine a close game, perhaps a tie game, or the chance to tie, and you have a base runner heading for home, in much the same way as Aaron Miles did last night. How important are all these aspects now?

So I've scoured Mr. Miles pretty good, here, but I'm confident, as I'd said earlier, that he figured out the mistake by the time he was on his back and rolling along the dirt. I'm confident that Miles will not make that mistake again, nor any other Cardinals' player who watched, like the rest of us, with pursed lips and sounding, "Ewwwwww."