For much of Friday night, it looked like the only story to come out of the game between the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants was another lackluster start from Patrick Corbin and what further soul-searching the left-hander might need to do to rediscover his previous form.
Then the Unwritten Rules of Baseball™ reared their ugly head at the end of the game.
With the Giants up 7-1 in the ninth inning, second baseman Thairo Estrada tried to steal second base, with the Nationals not holding him at first. On that pitch, Brandon Crawford blooped a base hit just over the left side of the infield, so Estrada kept on chugging around the bases and attempted to score, before being thrown out pretty comfortably at the plate.
The Nationals took umbrage to this, with Alcides Escobar yelling at the Giants’ dugout about it, and Nats manager Dave Martinez looking unimpressed as he pulled his shortstop away.
Nationals shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Victor Robles were not happy after Thairo Estrada attempted to steal second base and score on Brandon Crawford's single in the top of the ninth inning pic.twitter.com/90RdgRGUGz— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) April 23, 2022
How dare Estrada do such a thing. The nerve of an opposition player to try to help his team by advancing to second base and aggressively running the bases to attempt to score a run.
After the game, the main antagonist, Escobar, declined to comment via a team spokesperson, while Nationals’ manager was tight-lipped about it in his post-game press conference.
“They did some things that we felt like were uncalled for,” Martinez explained, sort of, “but you guys can ask [Giants manager] Gabe Kapler about that.”
When pressed for more on the incident, the Nats skipper continued to be cagey.
“I’m done with it,” Martinez said. “I talked to the team about it, so we’re going to play baseball the way we play.”
Wait, isn’t Martinez’s way of playing baseball to not give up until the final out of a game?
Stay in the Fight was the Nationals’ motto in 2019. Maybe now we need to adjust it to: Stay in the Fight... unless you’re winning by an unwritten amount of runs at an unwritten inning in the game, in which case, you need to check out of the fight immediately.
Why should the team that’s leading take the foot off the gas, but the team that’s trailing should keep trying to claw their way back into the game? Seems hypocritical, really.
So, what did Kapler have to say about his team doing the unspeakable act of trying in a game?
“It’s definitely not about running up the score,” Kapler said, as quoted by Maria Guardado of MLB.com. “We felt like we’re respecting our opponents, and we’re going to respect our opponents at every turn. This is about using every tool at our disposal to compete.”
And the Giants’ manager is absolutely correct. For professional athletes, surely the ultimate respect is to keep competing until the end of the game, showing that you are taking the threat of them potentially coming back in the game somewhat seriously.
The alternative would be a Mercy Rule, but that would likely be even more embarrassing for the losing team to have to take advantage of that rule if they were getting beaten that badly.
But last night, Kapler was taking the Nationals and the ability of their lineup very seriously.
“We scored seven runs in an inning tonight,” Kapler explained. “They have Josh Bell and Juan Soto and Nelson Cruz in the middle of their lineup. We know they’re capable of scoring seven runs in an inning as well.
“This is the way that we think makes the most sense to attack series.”
The Nationals also have an extremely recent history of coming back from a six-run deficit in the ninth inning too. They stayed in the fight on September 3rd, 2019, when Kurt Suzuki walked off the New York Mets at the end of a seven-run inning to win the game.
However unlikely a comeback was, part of the logic for the Giants is to stave off the chance of that happening as much as possible. They’re still trying to win a baseball game!
As many say when something like this happens, “Don’t like it? Play better and stop them.”
Beyond that, and even if both sides believed the game wasn’t in much doubt, the concept of running the score up is still a bizarrely heathen phrase across American sports.
In recreational sports, it makes sense. The two sides are there to have fun where there are few consequences in the result, so there is no need to keep pressing other than to fuel ego.
In pro sports, these are professional athletes. They make their living playing this game, and in such a statistics-oriented game like baseball, every single plate appearance, every run scored, and every little thing they do on the field counts towards a player’s value.
At the end of the day, a hit is a hit, a run scored is a run scored. Did you have an OPS of .900? Or did you only reach .800 because you didn’t really try in a couple of blowout games that season? Front offices won’t take that into account. They just see your OPS regardless.
That could be the difference between sticking in the majors and going back to the minors, a potentially career-altering difference. That sort of thing is worth continuing to play hard for.
The Nationals aren’t the first and they likely won’t be the last to get upset that another team kept playing hard against them in a somewhat one-sided game. The solution is right under their noses though, maybe they should just try to stop them on the field...