On extra-inning games ending at home plate

Otto Greule Jr

Last night, the Mariners were down to their last out, down by a run in the 14th inning. Dustin Ackley hit a double to right with Justin Smoak on first. Third-base coach Jeff Datz waved Smoak around third base. He was out at home. By a lot.


Smoak is faster than Jesus Montero. And that's about the only half-full thing you can say about that. Here's where Smoak was when the cameras cut away from Hunter picking up the ball:


Maybe if Mike Trout or Carlos Gomez is running, sure. But Justin Smoak is not fleet of foot. His next steal will be the third of his career, and there are reasons for that. He's been on base four times. Also, he's slow. Unless Matt Garza is the next batter, that's a pretty silly wave-around.

And that led brand-new Twitter sensation @based_ball to remark thusly:

late extra innings is always when third-base coaches are at their most aw-fuck-it

It sure looked like that, as if Datz were thinking, "Hey, maybe an osprey will swoop down and grab the ball. Whatever. Score or don't score, Justin. I'm sleepy and have a bunch of crap on my DVR." Which leads to the obvious follow-up question: How often does an extra-innings game end with an out at the plate?

Since 2000: four other times. A look at those four games:

Rockies @ Dodgers, Aug. 18, 2010

Unfortunately, this is the only video available in the MLB.com archives. Fortunately, it seems like the only contender on the list that was as egregious as Wednesday night.

There are times to take a chance. That time is not when the center fielder is 30 feet behind second, picking up the ball just as the runner is rounding third. The third-base coach? Larry Bowa, who might have been present when fuck-it was invented in a lab back in '68. Curiously, the game story doesn't make a big deal of the last out, focusing instead on Octavio Dotel's wildness.

Considering Reed Johnson's speed, you can almost get where Bowa was coming from. More so than with Datz's decision on Smoak, at least.

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Phillies @ Braves, June 6, 2008

No video, but it sure sounds like it was a close play. From USA Today:

Coste said Victorino's strong throw almost caught him off-guard.

"He threw it so hard I didn't have time to adjust," Coste said. "It was a line drive."

Braves manager Bobby Cox argued the call with home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez but after watching the replay said Blanco was out.

It was close enough to argue, and Blanco is an exceptionally fast runner. Being a third-base coach is a thankless job, but it's hard to argue with third-base coach Brian Snitker trusting a speedy runner down by a run in extra innings.

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Yankees @ Orioles, Aug. 16, 2003

This one has nothing to do with third-base coach Tom Trebelhorn, but it's a good one because the runner thrown out at the plate, Jack Cust, is at least as slow as Smoak. So what happened?

Jack Cust looked up last night and saw home plate sitting there, naked and unattended, without a Yankee in sight.

Whoa. This would technically be an OK excerpt, I guess:

Jack Cust looked up last night … naked and unattended … the glimmering hope on the horizon … long … hideous … none of it mattered now, because Cust was about to score …

But excerpting like that is probably a bad way to tell the story of what really happened, which Tyler Kepner recounts:

What happened next was purely outrageous, an uproarious finish to the most bizarre game of the Yankees' season. Yankees right fielder Karim Garcia whirled and threw to second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Tom Trebelhorn, the Orioles' third-base coach, tried to hold up Cust, but Cust ran past him and stumbled as he tried to stop. Soriano fired to third baseman Aaron Boone, who bobbled the throw.

Seeing that, Nelson and first baseman Nick Johnson raced to third to back up Boone. Cust got up and scampered toward home. Boone threw to catcher Jorge Posada, and Cust broke the other way. Posada threw to Boone.

Then it occurred to Nelson. He and Johnson were out of position. Cust was in front of Boone, and an unguarded home plate was ahead of him. ''You're seeing the whole play develop in front of you, and there's nobody behind him but the umpire and the on-deck guy,'' Nelson said. ''The earth opened up, and he got swallowed in it.''

A tumble by Cust and a desperate tag by Boone ended the Yankees' 5-4 victory in 12 innings at Camden Yards.

Cust fell down twice, and still almost scored the tying run. If you have to make the last out at home, that's the way to do it.

Correction! MLB.com is hosting this video, and it's as good as you might hope.

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Braves @ Astros, August 9, 2002

The runner was Craig Biggio, who was still pretty spry back in '02, so it's hard to fault third-base coach Gene Lamont much, especially when the game story suggests it took a perfect throw from cutoff man Rafael Furcal:

"I thought Biggio was going to make it easy. It was just two perfect throws,'' Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "I just asked him to demonstrate how he did it, and he couldn't. He said he doesn't know how he did it. It was a bullet.''

Tim Spooneybarger won the game. This is important to mention because there just aren't many chances to mention Tim Spooneybarger these days.

So it looks like there isn't a mentality of extra-innings ennui and apathy plaguing our National Pastime's third-base coaches. Or, if there is, they're getting awfully lucky, because it's much, much rarer to score on an extra-innings hit than get thrown out. Jeff Datz took a chance. He probably won't take that chance again.

Unless it's, like, the 15th inning. Because nuts to that.

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