The bases are separated by 90 feet and the pitching rubber to the plate by 60 feet six inches, and the historic evidence demonstrates that these represent perfect geometrics for baseball, resulting in whisker-close plays each and every game.
At the major league level, defence needs to be executed with consistent precision, else the scale gets tipped in the opponent’s favour. That close call at first base becomes a hit rather than an out, that seeming double-play grounder to shortstop results only in a fielder’s choice, the relay throw from outfield a few feet short of the target allows a runner to score from first instead of being thrown out at the plate.
The Blue Jays of 2013 are imprecise; their inability to execute proper defence consistently has hampered the team from the beginning of the season. Defensive miscues are a primary contributing factor in the Blue Jays record of seven wins and 13 losses in one-run games, compounding the woes of a starting rotation that is ranked 28th in the major leagues for innings pitched and earned run average. Perhaps they need to call in consultants from Siemens, Volkswagen, BMW, or ThyssenKrupp. Or maybe just conduct an old-fashioned infield practice once in a while.
On Saturday night before more than 43,000 at Petco Field, the Padres dropped the Blue Jays (23-33) back into 10-games-under-.500 territory with a 4-3 win, capitalizing again on a defence that tends to resemble the undisciplined marching platoon in the movie Stripes before Bill Murray drilled cadence into the troops’ heads.
The Padres basically won the game in the second inning against Mark Buehrle, as the subtleties of Toronto’s execution tipped in their favour. With a runner on first, slow running Yasmani Grandal hit a liner into the right-centre field gap that was cut off adeptly by Colby Rasmus. He threw purposely over the cutoff man to second base, being covered by shortstop Maicer Izturis. The throw was off target to the right of the bag by maybe 10 feet; yet even at that, Izturis might have been able to put the tag on Grandal had he turned to his left, rather than inexplicably to his right.
So now it’s runners on second and third base, none out. The next batter, Kyle Blanks, hits a grounder to shortstop. Izturis, better at second base than short, lacks range at the position but so does the regular substitute for Jose Reyes, Munenori Kawasaki. In any case, Edwin Encarnacion ranged far to his left from third base in front of Izturis to snare the ball, but with his momentum going toward centre field, he couldn’t make the throw to first. It should have been the shortstop’s play.
Run scores, there are runners at first and second with none out, and Beuhrle is forced to throw extra pitches. With two out, he loads the bases with a walk to Chris Denorfia. Had a play been made on the routine Blanks grounder, the inning is over. Instead, Everth Cabrera bounces a grounder between the mound and the third-base line and Buehrle, a Gold Glove fielder, throws the ball away for his second error this season. Two runs score on the play, for a 3-1 lead.
The fourth run scored with two out in the fourth inning when Mark DeRosa, a third baseman playing second base, couldn’t charge a top-spinning chopper by Cabrera quickly enough. He made an athletic barehanded catch, but threw in the dirt to first baseman Adam Lind. Cabrera was safe, a runner scored from third, and Buehrle (2-4) had to throw extra pitches.
On Friday, the Padres won a 17-inning game, 4-3, because in the fifth inning the Blue Jays allowed the tying run to score with two defensive mistakes on the same play. Second baseman Emilio Bonifacio’s relay from right fielder Jose Bautista forced J.P. Arencibia up the first-base line and, having caught the ball, the catcher tried a Derek Jeter, side-arming an off-balance throw into foul territory in what manager John Gibson called an “ill-advised” attempt to get the runner at third. Arencibia said in retrospect on Saturday that in “trying to be aggressive, I made an aggressive mistake” and wouldn’t do it again. Question is, why do the Jays make these mistakes continually?
Because regular third baseman Brett Lawrie and Reyes have missed a combined 61 games with injuries, the infield has been permanently unsettled. During this series, Gibbons mixed it up further to get Lind’s bat into the lineup in interleague play, moving Encarnacion over to third from first to make room for Lind.
“Every little thing is important – who’s running, who is hitting, what the pitcher is throwing, where [teammates] are positioned,” Izturis said. “The infield has to be consistent. No matter where I play, I cannot be afraid to make a mistake. It’s not easy. We have to communicate, to understand the situation.”
Once upon a time, teams would go through infield and outfield drills before batting practice. It’s “not done” these days, as Gibbons says, but when a team is expected to win the division and is instead buried in the AL East basement, perhaps it would be tolerable to break from the norm. Especially for a team still struggling to get to know one another.