When was the last time you saw a baserunner score from third on what was scored as a popup to short? And not one of those plays where the shortstop ranges far from his position, making a spectacular diving catch allowing the runner to tag up and score. Perhaps the last time such a play was made was back in Little League, as the ball was thrown around the field after a routine popup was caught.
As rare as such a play is, Alcides Escobar happened to do just that yesterday during the Royals matchup with the Cleveland Indians. It started seemingly harmlessly enough, as Mike Aviles went back to catch Omar Infante‘s popup, snaring the fly ball for the second out of the inning. Escobar went back to tag up at third, a perfunctory task that most runners do, even though the odds of scoring on such a play are minimal.
For Aviles, the play went awry as he slipped making the catch, landing on his backside. Alertly, Escobar took a couple of steps towards home, then sprinting towards home as Aviles threw the ball in from the ground. The throw reached Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer as Escobar appeared to be about three quarters of the way home, prompting a rushed throw that sailed over catcher Yan Gomes. It may have taken a perfect throw to beat Escobar to the plate, but it would have been a close call either way.
As the Royals had been constructed offensively to string together hits and put pressure on opposing defenses with their speed and ability to put the ball in play, Alcides Escobar took such a philosophy to the extreme. It was also an incredibly head’s up and gutsy call by Escobar to attempt to score on that play. Being gunned down at home would have ended the inning, and possibly have killed the momentum that the Royals had built in the early going.
Instead, Escobar made the type of play that could end up changing the course of the Royals season. Sometimes, a single play, just one moment on the diamond, can catapult a team on a hot streak. A play like Escobar’s, coming while the Royals are on a tear themselves, could be that special play that can set the stage for a special season.
The Royals offense needs to be opportunistic to score and put together large innings. Alcides Escobar, in one play, became the embodiment of that strategy.