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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 30, 2020 3:13 am PDT
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Rarely does one inning tell so much about the current state of baseball.

That is exactly what happened, though, in the sixth inning of the second game of a doubleheader on Tuesday at Citi Field between the Mets and Marlins.

In that inning the Marlins’ Jon Berti stole second base, third base and home, a trifecta of heads up plays, the kind of plays that I have been imploring teams to make for years in this age of #OverNerding and over-shifting.

Teams have dropped their defensive guard on the field. They are so immersed in the analytics of the game, and more worried about where to play a batter from a computer-generated spreadsheet than actually watching the game to see what is unfolding right in front of their eyes.

It’s been getting worse and worse.

The only thing that could have made this any more embarrassing would have been if Mets pitcher Jeurys Familia had taken one of those laminated cheat cards out of his cap and stared at that information as Berti stole home.

This was pretty close – allowing three stolen bases – after a walk, a free trip home.

After some looping throws from catcher Ali Sanchez back to Familia, Berti had it all scoped out. Sanchez looped it back one more time and Berti broke to home as Familia panicked and spiked his throw from about 50 feet. Berti stumbled on the dash home but somehow managed to regain his balance to score.

Jackie Robinson had to be smiling down on what Berti did.

The steal of third and home were delayed steals, works of baseball art from another generation that showed perfect timing and fearlessness to score the final run in the Marlins 3-0 victory to complete the sweep of the Mets, who lost the first game 4-0.

In that one dash home, Berti scored more runs than the Mets did their entire Launch Angle Day.

Teams need to get back to taking advantage of what opponents give them and that is the ultimate beauty of what Berti did. This was backyard baseball, taking advantage of the situation, taking advantage of a five-pitch leadoff walk by Familia, a reliever Brodie Van Wagenen bet on for the second straight year.

This is a lesson for all teams and perhaps can get the pendulum swinging back in favor of execution and fundamentals. Play the game right when other teams play the game wrong, and if that means you embarrass an opponent, keep doing it. Embarrass the heck out of them. That should be the mantra.

Perhaps Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter can bring some common sense back to a game that has lost its way. Perhaps the hustling Marlins can make a stand here for baseball.

In spring training the Marlins caught my eye. Not only because of their young pitching talent but the way they ran from one field to another. It wasn’t like other camps where players sauntered from one field to the other. The Marlins actually ran from one diamond to the next. They took that approach into the season where they have surprised with a decent halfway record.

But that would take independent thinking and most of today’s managers and coaching staffs are only there to take orders from nerds who have their pre-game plan set in stone.

What do you expect them to do, watch the game and react to the game?

No way. We will live and die by our analytics.

The excuse makers were out in full force after the embarrassing play. They pointed out the Mets catcher was young, his first Major League start. I guess he never had a speedy runner on at third base in the minors, that is why he was making lollipop throws back to the pitcher.

Another excuse, the Mets were coming off a Covid pause. That caused them to lose their momentum and evidently, any and all baseball instincts.

Save it.

There is much more to unpack in this breakdown of what went wrong.

First of all, the Mets went into that inning having made a host of defensive changes in this age where front offices believe anyone can play anywhere and defense usually gives way to offense. Defensive continuity is a thing of the past. No one is really a shortstop anymore, they play all over the diamond. No one on the field is in charge of the defense.

No teams practice defense. They may take some grounders but that’s about it, everything is half speed and half ass. Outfielders rarely work on their throwing, except for Mookie Betts.

To start that inning Brandon Nimmo went from center field to left, which caused left fielder Jeff McNeil to go to second base. Second baseman Luis Guillorme shifted to shortstop because manager Luis Rojas had pinch hit Robinson Cano for shortstop Amed Rosario in the top of the inning with a runner on first, trailing 2-0.

Nimmo moved because Juan Lagares was inserted into centerfield. Lagares had come into the game as the pinch-runner for Cano, after Cano’s shift single in the top of the sixth and was immediately doubled off first base to end the inning on a line drive by the lefty-hitting Guillorme into the glove of first baseman Lewin Diaz. Another huge basic baseball mistake.

Lagares did not freeze on the low line drive like baserunners have been taught to do for ages. He also did not bother to check where the first baseman was playing behind him. Baserunners used to always check the defense before the pitch. Not anymore. So when the line drive was hit, Lagares, on his first day back with the Mets, took off, thinking he might be able to score the tying run from first base on a ball in the corner. He forgot that the first baseman wears a glove, too.

Just another brick in the wall of Clown Show Baseball.

Davis was the Mets third baseman as we noted and was in a defensive alignment where he could not possibly get to third base on time once Berti pulled his delayed steal of third base. He was a third baseman in name only. Berti recognized all this as Mattingly noted and took full advantage.

Baseball 101. Take advantage of an opponent’s weakness. See how the defense is set up and make it work for you. Imagine if hitters did that with the shift. There would be no stopping offenses.

To make matters worse for the Mets, McNeil was now at second base, playing with a bone bruise on his knee. He never tried to duck in behind Berti at second to keep him close. Berti stole third even though a left-handed hitter was at the plate giving the catcher a clear view of making the throw to third. Advantage Berti because Davis could not get there – so even if Sanchez had made a perfect throw to the bag, Davis would not have been able to catch the throw at the base and Berti would have scampered home as that throw would have sailed into left field.

You can be sure all this went through Berti’s head. The Marlins made it a point in summer camp to let their baserunners know to be super aggressive. More teams should do that.

The Mets having just watched Berti steal second and third had no clue that he might steal home. It never entered their minds. There is no computer program to figure that out. Davis, again playing short left field – instead of third base – with Brian Anderson at the plate and two outs never made an effort to cover third base between pitches.

No one noticed on the Mets. No one in a Mets uniform was aware of what Berti might do. They were too busy looking ahead. Berti became the first player in Marlins history to steal three bases in an inning.

If your JV high school baseball team made this many mental errors in an inning you would be upset, but this is supposed to be the major leagues. And that’s the problem, this is the major leagues. No one is watching what is going on in front of them, their heads on the bench are buried in computer data. The players in the field are robots, being told how to play each batter and not how to play the game. Players can’t think for themselves anymore and coaches and managers strictly follow a game plan that has been handed to them from above.

I put a call into a longtime scout to get his opinion. Am I making the wrong read? Am I being too harsh?

“It’s the whole game now that doesn’t pay attention to all the little things,” the scout said. “It’s the little things that nobody does day in and day out. It’s just hard to watch. We’ve lowered the bar so much.”

Ironic too that scouts are not allowed at games this season, even those fake games in some alternate sites with the taxi squads. Some fans are now allowed in those type of games, but no scouts… so baseball continues to go on its merry little lost way.

The scout added this: “I’m sure Mattingly and his staff noticed in their series last week that the Mets can be sloppy, [so] let’s take advantage of this. Everybody is poring through videos and data, but nobody is watching the game and the game tells you what you need to do all the time.”

That is such a brilliant point, and a point totally lost on the control freak nerds who want to pre-script everything instead of reacting to what is happening on the field.

The game tells you what to do.

Many players have no instincts on what to do there. This is the mindset: “The hell with working on my situational defense in pre-game, I’m taking more hacks in the cage.”

Managers don’t hold players accountable.

I’m certain last year’s Mets third baseman Todd Frazier would have been aware of the situation, but he is in Texas now. Davis might as well had been in Texas.

Teams could do this kind of stuff all day if they went with their instincts like Berti did, like the Marlins encourage their players to do to be ultra-aggressive on the base paths. It is there for the taking.

The Mets have so much more offensive talent than the Marlins but were completely shut down on this day. The Marlins have to create their runs. Perhaps all this will wake up the Mets and they will go on a run, but that’s what is always said about the Mets.

The Mets lead baseball in unanswered wake-up calls.

For Mets fans you think: It can’t get worse. Then it gets worse.

If the Mets don’t make the postseason when any team with a pulse makes the postseason this year it would be one of the most humiliating seasons in Mets history.

Ironically, in the SNY TV booth Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez were both well aware of the huge lead Berti was taking at third base, a lead so large he could have hopped on the 7 Line to go to Manhattan. So, on the 1-2 count and yet another loopy toss back to the pitcher Berti took off and stumbled home safely, kind of a bear-crawl into home plate.

Ronnie and Keith come from an era where players were aware of things other than spin rate and exit velocity. The moment Berti stole second base they were warning he would probably steal third base in delayed fashion. They were right.

The Marlins were the home team because in this year of seven-inning double-headers anything goes… and games are made up when they can be made up no matter the ballpark. The visiting team is the home team on occasion.

The Mets started the day in bizarre fashion opting not to pitch Jacob deGrom in either of the two seven-inning games. Once again Van Wagenen is trying to be too smart for his own good. He did not take the layup of having deGrom start and most likely finish a seven-inning game. As it turns out the Mets could not score anyway. The bullpen once again turned a DeGrom win into a no decision the next night.

The lesson in Berti’s Trip Around the Bases is there for all to see: Put pressure on the defense.

Robots don’t react.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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