Not considering the teams that are playing or the level it’s played at, I have compiled a list of the greatest plays in a game of baseball. These plays could be done at the major league level or high school: either way, they don’t get much more exciting than this. Of course, every play is more exciting if the game is close and the result favors your team. With that in mind, we’ll consider every one of these plays benefit your team in a close game.
These are also the reasons to never leave a ballpark early. Sure, the game may be out of hand, but there’s always the chance of, not only a miracle comeback, but for your centerfielder to rob a home run or the opposing manager to get tossed for arguing balls and strikes. I can remember a Twins game in 1996 against the Yankees. The Yankees had the game in hand around the eighth inning and bench coach Don Zimmer came out to argue a call. As the argument got more and more heated, my friend and I called out to the baseball great from a few rows back (most fans had left as the Twins weren’t going to win and it was the second game of a doubleheader), “Only the Yankees would complain with an 8-2 lead!!!” Zimmer was eventually thrown from the game, causing the remaining 10,000 or so fans to erupt, not excluding my friend and I. That’s why you should never leave early. Here are some more reasons.
Baseball fans are much more likely to see the suicide squeeze at the high school level than by professionals. The word “suicide” fits it so well because that is what happens to the base runner should the play not work. The moment the pitcher makes his move to home, the runner on third breaks for home. It’s the batter’s job to lay down a bunt so by the time the ball is fielded, the runner should have already scored or close to it. What if the batter misses the pitch? The runner is caught between home and third with the ball in the catcher’s hand: he’s dead. If the defensive manager thinks the squeeze is coming he can call for a pitchout. There’s so much danger that goes into the play and it happens so fast. It’s like a fast break from half court. If you’re talking to your friend and not paying attention, you’ll miss it and when the crowd erupts and you look back to see an assortment of uniforms clustered around home plate, all you’ll think is, What happened? The suicide squeeze is not for the casual fan. The casual fan tends to blink with a runner on third with less than two outs.
Favorite suicide squeeze: The squeeze is usually meant to surprise the opposing manager. It surprises them even more if it’s done with two outs. It’s August 21, 1999 and the World Series champs of the previous year and the coming October are in Minnesota. I’d love to ask Tom Kelly if Cristian Guzman’s squeeze play to score Ron Coomer with two outs was actually planned by him, especially considering there was no score in the second inning with Roger Clemens on the mound. Kelly must have seen a weakness the Yankees’ defense to pull off such a gutsy play. My friend Teresa and I were a good 500 feet from home plate in the left field upper deck. We were in conversation when it happened; my eyes were on the game, her’s were not. “Squeeze!” I screamed as soon as I saw Coomer break for home and Guzman square to bunt to interrupt my friend’s thought on some drama in our lives. In 1999, Guzman was one of the fastest players in the game, if not the fastest. His bunt went past Clemens and between the first and second baseman. Guzman was safe, Coomer scored and the next batter, Corey Koskie, would double home Guzman and another runner to help propel the underdogs to a 6-1 victory. Although a casual fan, Teresa will never forget what a suicide squeeze play is after the giggles that followed my eruption.
Steal of home
The steal of home is a lost art. Sure, now and then a player sees an opportunity and goes for it, but there’s no one player who has mastered it. The most recent player to have stolen home at least 10 times is Paul Molitor with exactly that – 10. Hall of famer Rod Carew stole home 17 times in his career. The all-time record is held by Ty Cobb with 54. The next best is Pittsburgh’s Max Carey with 33. Cobb also holds the single-season record with eight in 1912. As long as we’re talking about the great (yet nasty) Cobb, he also holds the record for the most times stealing three consecutive bases with four times. Honus Wagner did it three times. Knowing the greatness of Cobb, he probably realized getting a single and then stealing second, third and home is much more insulting to the opposing team than one of those easy home runs where all the batter has to do it hit the ball really hard in the air. Let’s see the fat *&%# Ruth do this! The steal of home is such a gutsy, daring move, as a fan, I wouldn’t be too upset if the home team attempted it and failed: it’s that exciting.
Favorite steal of home: I’ve never seen one in person, but can only imagine the excitement. I’ll be casually watching a game at Target Field and hoping Justin Morneau can hit something in the outfield for a sacrifice fly. I keep my eyes on the field, quickly look to the scoreboard for the count before the pitch and in that quarter of a second Denard Span breaks for home while the lefty on the mound pays no attention. “Span’s goin’!” It’ll be a curveball low and away from third base and A.J. Pierzynski won’t get his glove back in time to tag Span’s right hand as it swipes the corner of home plate.
I do have to commend Philadelphia’s Jason Werth. In a game last season (2009) he made a big step towards Cobb’s record when he stole second, third and home consecutively. His steal of home was the less conventional way. As Dodgers catcher Russell Martin lolligagged a throw back to the pitcher, Werth took off for home. The pitcher threw it right back to Martin, but not before Werth could slide under a late tag for the steal of home.
Strike three looking
Strikeout are always fun, but they’re even more exciting when the opposing batter either disagrees with the umpire or your pitcher fooled him so bad he wasn’t even able to get the bat off his shoulder. A strike three looking is when the cocky jock next to you in class gets his research paper back and it’s a D while you aced it. It doesn’t matter what he thinks of the paper, but it does matter what the teacher thinks. The other comparison could be that same cocky student not filling in an answer on the math test because it’s all just too difficult. Why try when you know you’re only going to fail? A strikeout will kill any rally, but a strikeout looking will also kill the morale of the opposing team. It’s failure without an attempt.
Favorite strike three looking: If it happened in the 1991 World Series (and a lot did), it’s going to be my favorite moment. With runners on first and third in the fifth inning and two outs, Jack Morris had a challenge on his hands with Ron Gant at the plate. With a full count, Morris stuck a fastball on the outside black edge of the plate. Gant didn’t move, but the home plate umpire did as he rang up the Braves’ outfielder. Gant just looked back in disbelief while Morris pumped his fist and Twins fans did their best to crack the Metrodome roof.
Even when the home team is down 10 runs, it can be worth the price of admission when an opposing player or manager loses his cool and is tossed from the game. A called strike three is made and the batter turns to the umpire with a few choice words. The crowd gives the batter a few choice words of their own, but then the manager joins the scuffle. Now things are getting interesting. What once began as a simple argument has turned into a shouting match between the umpire, batter, manager and the thousands in the stands. The excitement builds as the tempers flair and the crowd is waiting for the umpire to make that magic gesture that says, “You’re out of here!” The gesture can be more exciting than a home run, especially if the home crowd hasn’t had much to cheer about.
During the close games, someone being tossed can be the momentum switch that wins or loses the game. During the blowouts, an opposing player being tossed from the game is that one cameo appearance in an otherwise poor film … it almost makes it worth it.
Favorite ejection(s): The Saint Paul Saints have the luxury of knowing the highlights of their games won’t be on national television. Sometimes, the team is lucky to get on the local channel for 30 seconds. What the argument was about, I don’t remember anymore and it doesn’t matter because after 15 minutes of arguments and ejections, I don’t think the Saints knew what they were arguing about anymore. The manager, third-base coach and a number of players were ejected. Once in the dugout, the third-base coach tossed as much equipment as he could get his hands on into the field. The pitcher, who watched all of this happen on the mound with his hands on his hips, turned to one of the umpires and said something that shouldn’t have been said and was ejected. In retaliation, the hurler chucked the ball over the left-field fence toward the railroad tracks. The arguments and ejections lasted so long, the crowd eventually tired of it and began to boo the home manager – there was baseball to be played.
Robbing a home run / extra-base hit
Your heart drops with the game tied late in the game and the opposing batter just crushed a hanging curve high and deep to center field. You hope it stays in the park, but there’s little chance. As it nears the wall, you realize it’s going to be over the fence for a home run. It’s over. Then the centerfielder comes out of nowhere (or center field), jumps over the fence to make the catch to prevent the home run. It’s like a call from the governor moments before your execution – you’re off the hook.
There’s usually two rounds of applause: one for the catch and the second after the replay is shown. The second round is normally louder as the first is usually more out of shock and the second is when the catch is truly appreciated.
Favorite home run / extra-base hit rob: I’ve been blessed in this category being a Twins fan watching both Kirby Puckett and Torii Hunter roam center field. Who was better at patrolling center field will always be a great debate among Twins fans. I’d have to give Puckett the slight edge based on one play: October 26, 1991. With the Twins leading 2-0 in the top of the third and Terry Pendleton on first base, Ron Gant launched a screamer to the wall in left-center field. With Pendleton racing around second base ready to score easily on either a home run or double, Puckett and left fielder Dan Gladden neared the wall. Gladden called, “Feel for it! Feel for it!” meaning to feel for the wall. Puckett did feel for it … with his ass as his body slammed into the wall high enough to slam a basketball after catching Gant’s drive at the peak of his jump. Puckett, in his excitement, tried to throw out Pendleton going back to first base without a cut-off man. Pendleton made it back to first, barely, but Puckett stopped the Braves’ potential rally cold.
My dad and I were sitting in the upper deck of left-center field during the entire series. We had perfect seats to watch Puckett’s catch. We had perfect seats if we would have been in them at the time. We watched the greatest defensive play in Minnesota Twins history on the Metrodome concourse televisions as we got our Coke and nachos. Like the description above, I remember feeling dread throughout my 13-year old body and then relief when Puckett made the catch. I’d been watching No. 34 make catches like that for years on the news, but never saw one in person. Close enough.