Stealing home is something I’ve been hoping to do all season. Everyone knows we’re a team that has to be aggressive to get runs. And, really, what’s more fun or more a test of your base-running skills than stealing home? I’d never done it in the majors. But I did it this winter with my Venezuela team – while the pitcher was still holding the ball. More on that in a minute.
So Monday against the Diamondbacks, Angel Pagan was on first, and I had a good lead off third. Boch and third-base coach Tim Flannery had told me if I ever got in that situation, and the catcher threw to second, I should just go.
Sometimes catchers will bluff. So you have to wait until the ball is in the air. Once I saw the ball leave the catcher’s hand, I took off. Pagan was safe, and because I had such a big lead, the shortstop didn’t even throw home. I scored standing.
So here’s what happened in winter ball. I had three things in my favor. One, it was a left-handed pitcher, so he was facing first base. Two, he never looked at me. And three, he had a pretty slow motion. When a pitcher sets, he has to hold the ball for a second before he throws. So as soon as this pitcher went into his motion, I ran. When he saw me, he fumbled to throw home. Not only did I beat the throw, the pitcher was called for a balk. I would have scored either way.
When I told Flan about it, he raised his eyebrow and said very slowly and deliberately “If you try that here, you had better make it.’’ I don’t think I’ll be doing it any time soon.
As you can tell, I love running the bases. I love the cat-and-mouse strategy, the athleticism, the burst of adrenaline. In Miami on the last road trip, I got caught in a rundown between home and third. It was a 1-1 game in the sixth inning. Melky had hit a hard grounder to the pitcher, I had broken down the line and the pitcher had thrown home. Now I was caught. To be honest, I thought I was dead. So my job at that point is to keep the fielders occupied with me long enough to allow Melky to get to second – in scoring position. We needed a run.
Both the catcher and third baseman were worried about Melky and were taking theirs eyes off me for split seconds at a time. Maybe, I thought, I had a chance. I dove past the third-baseman with a wide slide and slipped my hand under the tag.
Do we practice rundowns? Of course. We practice everything. So over the years, we each develop individual strategies for various situations. Here’s my strategy for run-downs:
Don’t get tagged.
See? It’s a simple game.