Graveman in Maldonado in Correa: the anatomy of a play

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Through Jake mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

First, let’s set the scene.

Before we introduce the characters in the dramatic final act of the ALCS, we need to know the setting: Match 6, start of round seven, one out. Boston trails Houston 3-2 in the series and 2-0 on the night. Runners in the first and third row, thanks to a walk by JD Martinez and a single by Alex Verdugo.

Astros starter Luis García and his mule Jheri curl had been downright dominant all night, landing a hit in the sixth, but he had since been called out, the bullpen activated since. Houston had Kendall Graveman, the pickup lifter before the trade deadline and the weight lifter on the hump. Boston’s pinch hit the former and / or current Red-Sock-past his first Travis Shaw, which the team picked up in August.

The whole game, series and season was in play. A ball in space would most likely even the game. A walk would load up the basics and most likely push the tired looking Graveman for a new arm. With the count full, Verdugo took second on the field as Graveman backed up and detonated a downstream radiator right next to Shaw. Houston wide receiver Martin Maldonado sprang up and threw an accurate shot at Carlos Correa’s glove, straight into the incoming Verdugo, which was a mile away.

Round finished. Game over. Boston season? A memory soon to be distant.

No matter what you think of the Astros (and many of you let me know after writing how slyly sympathetic most players are), this is an absolutely electric baseball game. It’s great art, a beautiful sporting dance, an elaborate drama full of fascinating characters.

So let’s break down this game that defines the season, from how the chess pieces got on the board in the first place, to the motivations, misadventures, and magnificence of everyone involved.

Graveman and his change 3-1

John Smoltz spoke about it on the live show, but Graveman’s decision to give Shaw a 3-1 field change was quite shocking. Graveman is a fastball / slider guy. This season he has launched 72% radiators and 17% sliders but only 6% changes. In fact, he hadn’t made a change in over a month, since September 12 against Shohei Ohtani (remember him?), Who tore the pitch for a single.

Shifts, especially for the hard-throwing relievers, tend to be much more difficult to throw on strikes than other throws. But even though Graveman had just thrown 20 fastballs in a row and hadn’t started his change in over a month, he or Maldonado had the confidence to call him there and completely change the dynamics of the at- bat.

Why was this pitch selection so important? Because by throwing the change into the 3-1 count, Graveman forced Shaw, who had just seen four radiators, to think of something else. This change was certainly on Shaw’s mind when Graveman blew up his field gates later with a fastball in the middle.

Travis Shaw and his slow bat

With all the shuffling and pairing happening in October, every postseason team needs a certified left-handed bench batsman, a guy who is maybe a bit limited defensively but hovers from the hilt. left side and can go over there and just meet one. A Dan Vogelbach guy, if you will. As of mid-August, Boston didn’t really have one of those guys.

Franchy Cordero was kind of made to be that, but he struggled mightily. Marwin González too. Top prospect Jarren Duran has arrived and has had no impact. Neither Danny Santana (who was still on the roster) nor Jonathan Araúz showed enough pop. Left-handed first baseman Josh Ockimey OPS got just 0.775 in Worcester’s triple A and didn’t force a call-up. Kyle Schwarber was brought in, but he started everyday. So the Sox came out and grabbed old friend and big left-handed hitter Shaw from the waiver wire like some kind of Plan F left bench bat.

Shaw was solid but unspectacular down the home stretch for Boston, but he looked outclassed in October, like a once good player who had lost a bit of bat speed and could no longer catch the fastball.

If any of those left-handed men listed above perform a little better, Shaw probably lingers on waivers and never returns to Boston and is never late for the Fastball Graveman. But unfortunately …

Martín Maldonado, defensive wizard

Maldonado was baseball’s fourth worst hitter this year. Among players with at least 400 home plate appearances, he had the fourth lowest MLB OPS + behind (ahead?) Just Jackie Bradley Jr., Kevin Newman and Andrelton Simmons. But Houston continued to lead the veteran wide receiver there everyday because he’s a maestro behind the dish.

Maldonado is widely regarded for the way he handled Houston’s young pitching staff, but he also has one of the league’s most revolutionary pitching arms. This season he has eliminated about 40% of the runners, ranking fourth in the league. The mere presence of its anti-theft howitzer prevented the runners from trying.

That’s why after the backup backstop Jason Castro came up with a winning single and pinched in Game 4, Maldonado started the next two games anyway, even though he’s anemic at home plate. A team like Houston, with such an incredible offense, can essentially afford to score all nine spots in the roster.

That’s it for times like this. Maldonado put that shot straight to the sack and toast Verdugo, even though Graveman was slow at the plate (around 1.6 seconds, according to Alex Cora after the game). It was an incredible pitch from an inept hitter who plays baseball every day anyway because he’s so good at defense. I love it.

Alex Cora’s Theft Sign

So why was Verdugo running in the first place? Some have criticized Alex Cora for making him attempt to fly there, but here’s what he had to say next:

“But he’s one of those who go 3-2 with a lead ball. We were trying to score one, and we felt we had the right guy at the start. The times were 1.6, 1, 65, and it just mattered that their catcher just came out shooting, and he made a perfect pitch. “

Cora was essentially arguing that a lead player like Graveman on the mound is likely to induce a ground ball, which almost certainly would have meant double play with Shaw’s slowness. Putting Verdugo (who is a league average runner) in motion keeps Boston out of double play, allowing Martinez on third base to come in and score.

It’s pretty logical, actually. You lean on your batter to make contact, assuming any ball put into play is likely to be a Grounder. If Shaw steps up to second base and Martinez scores on the choice of a defensive player, reducing Houston’s lead to one, Cora looks great.

Unfortunately for him, the Red Sox and most of New England, Shaw instead sniffed the fastball and Verdugo completely missed the steal attempt.

Verdugo’s big blunder

Verdugo didn’t just take a bad jump. He made a horrible jump. In fact, he wasn’t even ready to fly. Graveman had flipped over on the previous play, and Verdugo took his time getting back on his feet. This meant that by the time Graveman resumed his move, Verdugo’s lead was far too small for a runner trying to steal a base in a pivotal moment of a playoff game.

It’s a game of thumbs. If Verdugo takes the lead earlier, he gets at least another half step. He is also not caught off guard and is in a more athletic stance, more ready to rush into second place. In fact, he had come out about a foot, a foot that was there for the hold. The little things, all of you, they matter.

Certainly this piece did not make or break the ALCS. Houston was already in the game and the series. Boston, if he had executed this play correctly, would still need another point to equalize and would need their box to stop the mighty Astros order.

But this wonderful piece, the strike ’em out / throw’ em out heard around the world (or at least in East Texas) will be remembered as a piece in this series. And he will do it because of all these little things, these added advantages and disadvantages, transactions, decisions and indecisions, which all led to this unforgettable moment.

Jake Mintz is the loudest half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He is an Orioles fan who lives in New York City and therefore leads a lonely existence most of the time. If he doesn’t watch baseball, he almost certainly rides a bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.


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