Manuel Margot missed home invasion by a hair in the bottom of the fourth. Or at least a hand.
Baseball’s first shot at stealing home in a World Series since the Anaheim Angels’s Brad Fullmer in the 2002 Series got thatclose to turning Game Five around in the Tampa Bay Rays’ favour Sunday night. And it wasn’t on the front end of a double steal attempt.
Catching Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw in a lefthander’s naturally disadvantageous vantage point, and with the left side of the infield unoccupied in a defensive shift, Margot thought burglary’s risk minimal with the reward promising to be great.
“t was 100 percent my decision,” the Rays left fielder said after the 4-2 Rays loss. “I thought it was a good idea at the time. I had a pretty good chance of being safe.”
Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier at the plate. Margot, who’d been taking leads as big as the law allows whenever he reached third all postseason long, jumped right after Kershaw heeded his first baseman Max Muncy and stepped off the pitching rubber.
Kershaw threw home, a little off line. Margot dove to the plate and almost made it. Dodger catcher Austin Barnes got a tag on his slightly raised sliding hand a split second before it touched the plate.
“I thought I was really close,” Margot said. “I really didn’t know where they touched me. [The Rays] didn’t challenge.” A challenge might have proven futile. What Margot did, though, was a kind of triumph despite his arrest for first degree burglary.
Kiermaier certainly thought so. “It was a gutsy move and it didn’t work out that time,” he said postgame. “Manny is a great baserunner. He’s not afraid to take risks. I didn’t have a problem with it . . . It takes a lot of guts to sit here and try that in the World Series. It just didn’t work out.”
Rays manager Kevin Cash wouldn’t object, either. “I think Manny felt he could just time him up . . . I think we try to do things and make decisions and allow players to be athletic,” he said postgame. “If Manny felt he had a read on it, for whatever reason, it’s tough for me to say yes or no, just because he’s a talented baserunner. He might be seeing something I’m not or can’t appreciate in the moment right there.”
Stealing home on a double-steal attempt is rare enough in the postseason. Stealing home straight, no chaser in the Series makes the double-steal as common as breakfast coffee. Maybe the most fabled attempt was Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson in Game One of the 1955 Series. The Hall of Fame catcher on the play eventually got to autograph a photo of it for President Barack Obama:
Yogi habitually autographed photos of that play with “He was out!” for the rest of his life. Robinson’s was only the fifth successful straight-no-chaser home theft in Series history. The other four?
Game Two, 1909—The Series billed heavily as a showdown between two of the Hall of Fame’s Inaugural Five: Detroit’s Ty Cobb and Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner. The Dutchman generally out-played the Peach in the Series, but Cobb caught Pirates reliever Vic Willis so fixed on Tigers batter George Moriarty that the baby and his candy had a better chance against a thief than the Pirates did when Cobb stole home.
Game One, 1921—Yankees middle infielder Mike McNally doubled in the fifth, took third on a bunt, and helped himself to home on the house. He made it look almost so simple a man with a fractured leg could have gotten away with it. Sort of.
Game Two, 1921—Yankee legend Bob Meusel decided to return the favour. He had a little help from Giants catcher Earl Smith—when Smith dropped Al Nehf’s pitch around the plate–but, of course, you never look a gift Giant in the mouth.
Game One, 1951—Hall of Famer Monte Irvin led off in the top of the first with a two-out base hit and took third when Whitey Lockman whacked a ground-rule double. Giants manager Leo Durocher, who knew a few things about thievery (such as the telescopic sign-stealing scheme that enabled the Giants’ pennant race comeback and playoff force in the first place), decided Irvin should take the chance with Bobby Thomson at the plate. Yankee pitcher Allie Reynolds helped with his habit of looking down as he took the sign from Berra. Irvin stole home so readily it’s a wonder he didn’t take up bank robbery after his playing days ended.
There but for the grace of maybe four inches would Margot have pilfered his way into the books. Not only would he have had the mere sixth straight home invasion in Series history, his would have been the first such successful heist in any Series game later than Game Two.
The truly bad news for the Rays after Margot was cuffed and stuffed was Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy checking in at the plate in the top of the fifth, with two out and the Dodgers leading 3-2, and wrestling Rays starter Tyler Glasnow to a full count before blasting a fastball down Broadway almost halfway up the right field seats.
Kershaw, who passed fellow future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander to take the top seat on the all-time postseason strikeout list Sunday night, didn’t catch on to Margot’s burglary attempt until just about the last split second.
“That has happened to me before,” Kershaw said, filing his postgame police report. “I wasn’t really anticipating it, but I have talked to first basemen in the past. Muncy, I have talked to him about it as well like, ‘Hey, I look at him but when I come set I don’t really see the runner, so you got to yell at me if they start going.’ And he was yelling at me, step off step off step off. So instinctually I just did it. It was a big out for us right there.”
Beats a burglar alarm.