June 27, 2008

Error on me once, shame on me, error on me twice, shame on ... well ... me again

A mid-June 4thebirds post from another network, by permission:

A pair of all but identical miscues by the Philadelphia Phillies in the bottom of the tenth gave the Cards a one-run, extra-inning victory on Father's Day, 7-6.

The inning looked to be a quick one-two-three for Phillies' reliever Tom Gordon, who got Aaron Miles to fly out to center, then Ryan Ludwick to ground out to third.

But when Rick Ankiel hit a ground ball to the second baseman Chase Utley, pulling Ryan Howard far enough away from first base so that Gordon had to cover, things went south for the Phils. Utley lead Gordon with the throw, an appropriate measures, as the technique of this play demands the pitcher to stay on the move in order to make the throw easier to judge. But Gordon, for whatever reason, stopped dead in his tracks, the throw now out of reach in front of him. Doesn't matter who the official scorer gave the error to, because the mistake was made by Gordon. Additionally, Gordon's approach was all wrong, taking a track to first base that did not allow him to remain out of the baseline, where the batter will be steaming through. This off-track course also makes it extra difficult for the pitcher to receive the time and receive the throw while determining the proper footwork to touch first base (right foot, which keeps more of the body out of the hitter's running path through the base).

Troy Glaus then got or took a green light on 3-0, lining a single into left field, Ankiel taking second base. Chris Duncan was next, and with two outs, hit a ground ball to Utley, Howard again roaming in that direction, requiring Gordon to cover first base.

Once more, Gordon took a risky route to the bag, and while he didn't put on the breaks, he failed to catch Utley's throw, this one slightly behind Gordon, but very catch able. Once more, regardless of the scorekeeper's official call, the error belongs to Gordon, for flat out missing the throw. On this play, his path was worse then the first time, taking him right across the first base foul line, Duncan just missing running him down.

The way for Gordon to fix the problem is to get his path down pat, because he is quick enough to beat most hitters to the bag. Gordon needs to hustle to a spot just inside, or on the fair territory side of the first base foul line, then cut up toward first base, his field of view of both the bag and the throw as good as it's going to be from this angle. He should get his steps settled as fast as possible, so that however the play goes down, he has already put his footwork in order to receive the throw and stomp the bag with his right foot.

Taking this "up the inside of the line" path, Gordon can make foot speed adjustment to the throw, whether it is coming from Utley or Howard. When Gordon fails to execute this technique properly, he makes the play doubly difficult on himself, given such a play is not easy even when everyone executes properly.

This "pitcher covering first" play is one that most fans can see major leagues on most teams going through the motions, just asking for disaster, a day like today for Gordon and the Phillies serving as a perfect example, as the non-execution of this very "doable" play was so bad, twice, that it makes it almost impossible to believe that Gordon or the Phillies staff have stressed the importance of this basic baseball play. Again, not easy, but one that if messed up, should not be for the reasons found in the pair of Utely-to-Gordon misplays. Shame, twice.

But we are 4thebirds, so we'll learn from the Phillies mistakes, take the win in which they pitched in to help us with, and move on to the next game.