‘Home, home, home!’ How Dodgers foiled Manuel Margot’s stealing home gamble
You and I might never be able to hit a ball as far as a major leaguer can or to throw a ball as hard. But every now and then, we all take our best shot at something and miss.
On that score, we all can relate to Manuel Margot and to the words he used late Sunday in Arlington, Texas.
“I thought it was a good idea at the time,” Margot said.
Margot plays for the Tampa Bay Rays, and the idea he had was to steal home, right there in the middle of the World Series. He represented the tying run.
He did not score, but the margin between success and failure could be measured in inches. With one more step on his head start, or without the alert responses of Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and first baseman Max Muncy, Margot would have scored.
Behind a strong outing from Clayton Kershaw and three relievers, the Dodgers defeated the Rays to take a three-games-to-two lead in the World Series.
“It takes a lot of guts to try that in the World Series,” the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier said.
The Dodgers’ 4-2 win moved them within one victory of the World Series title. No one has stolen home in the World Series in 18 years, and even then it was part of a double steal.
“I was surprised,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We were all surprised. We don’t see that very often at all.”
Kershaw was not entirely surprised. Margot’s gamble was foiled by Kershaw’s preparation.
This would be the last start of Kershaw’s season, his chance to stomp on his October history and carry the Dodgers within one game of that elusive World Series championship.
He was teetering. In the third inning, the Rays put together three hits and two runs, with Kershaw escaping when catcher Austin Barnes threw out Randy Arozarena trying to steal second base.
Tampa Bay’s Manuel Margot tries to steal home against the Dodgers in Game 5.
In the fourth, with the Dodgers up 3-2, Margot walked, stole second base and continued to third when second baseman Chris Taylor botched the throw for an error. Hunter Renfroe walked, and the Rays had the tying and go-ahead runs on base with none out. Kershaw had retired just two of the previous seven batters.
Joey Wendle popped up. Willy Adames struck out.
And, with Kiermaier at bat, Muncy started sprinting toward Kershaw, screaming the same word.
“Home! Home! Home!”
Kershaw is well aware of his delivery, in which he stretches so high and so deliberately that a runner on third base will no longer be in his line of sight.
He has told his first baseman over the years to yell at him if a runner takes off from third. On Sunday, he remembered that Carlos Gomez tried that very thing five years ago. (Gomez was out too.)
Kershaw heard Muncy and stepped off the mound, avoiding the balk that would have scored the run.
“It was just kind of instinct to step off,” Kershaw said. “Thankfully, it’s happened before.”
He then fired a strike to Barnes, who tagged out Margot.
“That,” Kershaw said, “was a big out for us right there.”
Kershaw did not permit another batter to reach base. The Rays never again got a runner to third base.
The Rays did not give Margot a sign to steal. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash did not support the play as a high-stakes element of surprise.
“Not so much the element of surprise,” Cash said. “We encourage making intelligent baseball decisions, and if Manny felt he had the opportunity to score ... then we should support it.”
Cash parried the suggestion that, in a perfect world, Renfroe would have taken off from first base, giving Margot a better chance to steal.
“No,” Cash said. “In a perfect world, he’s safe.”
The last man to steal home in the World Series? The Angels’ Brad Fullmer in the first inning of Game 2 of the 2002 World Series as part of a double steal.
Fullmer’s old high school teammate — the San Francisco Giants’ Russ Ortiz, from Montclair Prep — was on the mound. The Angels led 3-0 with one out and with Fullmer on third and Scott Spiezio on first.
Spiezio took off for second base. He was safe, and Fullmer stole home without a return throw.
One more thing about those 2002 Angels: They are the last Southern California team to win the World Series.
They have held that distinction for close to two decades. They could lose it Tuesday.
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