By Morris Phillips
MINNEAPOLIS — A three-minute drama in two parts–there for all who squared up with their local cable outfit to see–played out Thursday night starring Tampa Bay’s Jake Bauers and Minnesota’s Brian Dozier.
With a very opinionated, supporting role played by MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds.
Bauers, a rookie just six weeks into his big league career, doubled leading off the fourth inning. Pitcher Kyle Gibson, a big guy of whom more has always been expected, and in the midst of his most impressive start of 2018, wasn’t in the mood to concede anything. So after his change of pace, first pitch offering to cleanup hitter Wilson Ramos landed in the dirt, Gibson set his sights on garnering the 13th successful pickoff of his big league career.
With Bauers off to an aggressive lead, and his eyes focused on Gibson, the baserunner had a lapse, looking toward home plate. At that exact moment, Gibson spun and threw to second baseman Dozier, deftly sneaking in for the catch and tag. The bang bang play, according to second base umpire James Hoye, saw Bauers get his hand on the bag a fraction of a second ahead of Dozier’s tag.
The Twins and Dozier felt differently, and they took their alloted time to consider issuing a challenge.
Back at the MLB Network studios in Seacaucus, New Jersey it was a good time for a live cut-in on the Rays and Twins, two AL squads with almost no significant relationship to the 2018 postseason. While the Rays have surged of late to become just the seventh American League team currently with a winning record, the Twins have lived below .500 in the AL Central, a division that already seems ceded to the first-place Indians.
But on Thursdays, with a limited schedule and games spread across day and night time frames, the Rays and Twins garnered some attention, and the pickoff drama played out live on the MLB Network.
“You cannot do that!” Reynolds said repeatedly, as he instructed his production crew to freeze the replay at the point Bauers’ attention lapsed. Reynolds didn’t ease up on the rookie regarding the call to the point it felt like the retired second baseman was lobbying for Bauers to be out just based on his attention lapse, regardless of what went down with the tag.
Of course, Reynolds is in the studio, and talking, when it may have been more beneficial at that moment to listen to Rays announcers Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson. But that’s live television, full of bluster and entertainment, but maybe a little short on accuracy. Need more concise info? In this case, Bauers, speaking 48 hours later, provided just that.
“When I get my lead off second, I like to look at whoever is holding me on,” Bauers recounted. “In this case, it was Dozier, the second baseman. I was looking at him, seeing how far I could get off. Right when I panned from him to go back to Gibson, he broke in and picked off on me. I thought I was dead to rights out there. But I think I was so late getting back, that he kind of tagged early, and I snuck my hand in.”
Regardless of the truth, it looked bad for Bauers. He knew it, and so did Dozier. But ultimately, no challenge was issued.
“It was a bad feed, as far as blurriness,” Dozier admitted. “That’s why we didn’t challenge it. On one of the angles you can see he was probably out, but not enough to overturn it. When I tagged him, he was still about a foot away from the bag.”
As Reynolds continued to scold the rookie, the live shot showed Bauers smiling at Dozier. Reynolds quickly assumed Bauers’ smile to be an admission of guilt. Well, Reynolds got that right.
“I was smiling because I knew I was caught,” Bauers said. “I knew it was a good pick play. Obviously, I’m not used to being held that close at second. I don’t know if that’s just something that he does because he likes to do it, or that they’re having him do it.”
Dozier, given the same 48 hours as Bauers to reflect, explained that Bauers’ aggressive lead was immediately noticeable. Seeing that, Dozier signaled to Gibson that it was time for the pitcher to display his acumen for picking off runners.
And how did Dozier interpret Bauers’ smile and small talk?
“I think he knew he was out. That’s probably the ‘I know I’m out’ feeling,’ but let’s just hope they don’t have enough evidence to overturn it,” Dozier said.
Meanwhile, Reynolds remained out of the information loop.
“He’s still standing at second base!” Reynolds said incredulously as play continued without Bauers being penalized, or Reynolds knowing that no formal challenge was issued.
Oh, the powerlessness of live television.