Welcome to The Opener, where every weekday morning during the regular season you’ll get a fresh, topical column to start your day from one of SI.com’s MLB writers.
Maybe the natural chaos embedded in baseball springs from the soul of Javy Báez. Last May, as a member of the Cubsthe tricky shortstop was at the center of the season’s most inexplicable chain of events when he somehow confused the Pirates into ignoring the laws of the sport and refusing to retire him by simply stepping on the first base.
He was not quite as involved in the most chaotic play MLB has seen since then, which unfolded during Tuesday night’s contest between Baez’s Tigers and the Twins. But he was indeed on the field once again when a game featuring some of the most talented baseball players on the planet turned into what appeared to be a Little League matchup on its nonsensical, awkward, exhilarating final play. And this time, through no fault of his own, Báez ended up on the wrong side of the action.
In less than 30 seconds, the Tigers went from being this close to a critical victory to be completely lost. A win would have put them a half-game out of first place in the AL Central. The loss left them tied for last.
After the dust had settled, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli could hardly believe his team’s luck. Because while his team ultimately triumphed, they were far from faultless as to what unfolded on the final play, which featured three baffling blunders from each team.
Baldelli said, “I think this is one of those days where it’s probably not worth breaking it all down.”
I beg to differ.
1. Robbie Grossman’s poor read
Over the last few months, I have come to further appreciate the difficulties of playing an outfield position. That’s because after playing in the infield for the entirety of my (extremely inconsequential) baseball career, I’ve recently set up shop in the grass for my co-ed softball team. And let me tell you, judging the landing spot of screaming line drives traveling to you from hundreds of feet away, such as the one that Twins slugger Miguel Sanó ripped to start this whole catastrophe, is even harder than it looks.
Just last week, I made a similar misjudgment to the one made by Tigers right fielder Robbie Grossman on Tuesday. I felt quite foolish when a ball I was sure I was positioned deep enough to catch instead only grazed my outstretched glove, landed behind me and kept on rolling toward the fence.
I’m sure Grossman felt similarly. Because while Sanó’s base hit was a well-hit ball, it’s also a ball that major-league right fielders are expected to catch. This wasn’t officially scored an error, but it was most certainly a miscalculation.
2. Miguel Sanó’s decision to keep running
For all Sanó’s talents as a baseball player, running the bases is not near the top of the list. By the metric of baserunning runs above average, he’s been worth negative runs on the basepaths in six of his seven previous MLB seasons, and this year is ranked 167th out of 184 qualified players in that statistic.
So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when caught between two bases during an irregular play, Sanó made the wrong choice here. Lead runner Trevor Larnach, who had to wait at second base until the ball landed in the outfield, was held at third once the Tigers relayed it in rather quickly. That left Minnesota’s Gio Urshela, who started the play on first, parked at second base. Once Sanó saw the ball was thrown home, though, he sprinted for a second base, incorrectly assuming Larnach had the green light to score and Urshela was on his way to third. That left Sanó in no man’s land.
3. Gio Urshela’s decision to resume running
If Urshela had stood his ground a second longer, he would’ve seen Sanó retreating back to first base, where no one was there to tag him. Even if Sanó didn’t go back and was sacrificed on the base paths as a TOOTBLAN victim, that would’ve been a preferable scenario to Urshela or lead runner Trevor Larnach getting tagged out. They’re both faster runners than Sanó and were already in scoring position.
Scroll to Continue
Still, it’s hard to blame Urshela too much here for taking off for third. When you see someone running at you, the natural human instinct is to run away. And his decision to push onward ultimately caused the next mistake, which was the most costly of them all.
4. Eric Haase’s loft into left field
Tigers catcher Eric Haase really made two mistakes in one: a physical error and a mental one. The physical one was quite clear for anyone to see, and was in fact the only action in this comical sequence to actually go down in the scorebook as an error. He should not have chucked the ball high over the head of his intended target into the outfield, allowing both the tying and winning runs to score. He also, however, should never have been throwing the ball to Detroit’s third baseman.
When Haase caught the ball at home plate, he was confronted with Urshela stuck between second and third while Sanó was caught between first and second. He should have thrown the ball to Báez, who was covering second base and waving for the ball. Or, he could have just held the ball. That would’ve been the safest way to preserve the lead.
Instead, he threw to the one bag where a runner was already safely on the base and from which Urshela was already retreating. Well, he tried to throw it to third base, anyway. It ended up in left field.
5. Austin Meadows lurking away from left field
I’m not sure how much fault can be laid at Meadows’s feet. When the ball flew off Sanó’s bat into the right field, he figured the ball probably wouldn’t end up in the left field. Then again, he has one job on this play, and that’s to back up a potential errant throw to third base. Indeed, after Haase’s hideous toss, Meadows was nowhere near the scene.
Because of how far away he’d strayed from his home, it fell to Báez to sprint from second base into left field to retrieve the ball. By the time Báez got there, it was too late to nab Urshela at home and prevent the game-winning run from crossing the plate.
But Báez, being the clever fielder he is, did the best thing he could do and nearly saved Detroit’s bacon by taking advantage of yet another Twins baserunning blunder.
6. Miguel Sanó’s decision to keep running (again!)
When the ball flew out of Haase’s hand into the left field, all Sanó needed to do was stay at second and let the winning run score. Instead, he broke for third. Báez, seeing this, hurled the ball to the third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who very nearly tagged out Sanó before Urshela scored and ended the game. It would’ve been the perfect bookend for this calamity of errors, leaving both teams tied and one out away from extra innings.
Watch MLB games online all season long with fuboTV: Start with a 7-day free trial!
Alas, it was not to be. Urshela slid head-first into home just before Sanó could be tagged, Minnesota left its home stadium with a 5–4 victory and the Twins could breathe a sigh of relief that their three mistakes on the final play of the game turned out not to be as costly as Detroit’s.
“We made some boo-boos on the bases and we somehow made our way out of it and smell like roses. And sometimes that’s the way it happens, “Baldelli said, before admitting:” I don’t even know what I’m talking about right now. But I think that sums up the last play of the game and the result.
“I think once in a while you walk away and you just kind of throw your hands in the air, and you smile, and you take the win, and you go to bed at night.”
If the Twins end up winning the division or making the playoffs by one game, they’ll probably look back at this night while laying in bed and laughing. If the Tigers end up missing out by the same margin, they may think of this moment and cry themselves to sleep.
More MLB Coverage:
• The King of Spin: Yu Darvish Epitomizes Pitching in 2022
• The Infield Shift Is Going Out With a Bang
• SI: AM | The Mets Are Firing on All Cylinders
• MLB Power Rankings: The Mariners Crack the Top 10
• Five-Tool Newsletter: Ohtani, Pujols, Other Notes From the First Two Weeks
Sports Illustrated may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.