The big play from Friday night’s Nationals-Phillies game came when Washington’s Michael A. Taylor roped a liner to center with the bases loaded, and wound up with the rare inside-the-park grand slam. This was great fun to watch:
Normally I’d be using this space to rave about Taylor’s overall performance last night—he went 4-for-5 with five runs batted in, a stolen base, and a highlight outfield assist to keep a run off the board, plus I am a Nats homer—but, my God, did you see Odubel Herrera? What in blazes.
The play—the miserable attempt at a play—that allowed the ball to get all the way to the wall was a really, really bad one. Herrera broke in at the crack of the bat, a misread that put him in terrible position to make a play on the ball. Unfortunately, that ball was absolutely smoked, and once he broke in on it, Herrera was not going to get to it before it passed him and found the deep outfield. Leaping, as he did, perhaps gave him the best chance at making an improbable play, but it also gave him the best chance of allowing a clutch hit to become a bases-clearing game-changer.
But the most brutal part of the sequence is what comes immediately after the failed leap: Herrera’s effort, chasing that ball to the wall, is not a serious one. It is the jog of a man whose young child has just hurled the frisbee into the woods for the eighth time in 20 minutes. It is how you move when you are ready to pack up the picnic and head home.
This was undoubtedly the low-point of Herrera’s night, but it was not the only instance of crushing humiliation. The other one came a couple innings later, with Herrera at the plate and the Phillies trailing by four runs. Herrera, who has as elaborate a between-pitches routine as any player in baseball, was in the middle of his intricate dance when home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg declined to grant him time, and Max Scherzer quick-pitched him to hell:
Max Scherzer is a psycho, and the CSN Washington broadcast noted that Scherzer—who is a grab-and-go type pitcher—was grumpy earlier in the game with Herrera, whose stalling was seriously fucking up his qi. This isn’t exactly a quick pitch—Scherzer went through his normal windup without any particular haste—but he was almost certainly watching to see if Kellogg would give Herrera time, and jumped early enough that he caught even his catcher by surprise. That’s a weird spot: batters aren’t supposed to step out between pitches, and they also aren’t supposed to tie up the game with mostly-superstitious pre-pitch routines; on the other hand, umpires normally do give batters time to complete their routines, if the batter holds up the hand (as Herrera did) to signal time.
Through a translator, Herrera gave his side on the quick pitch after the game:
Yeah, he caught me by surprise. I thought it wasn’t even legal, or valid, what he did. I thought the umpire was going to say something to him, but he didn’t.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Herrera “has a tendency to get caught up in his own little routine” at the plate, and that this isn’t the first time an opposing pitcher has tried to quick-pitch him. Herrera’s had a nice year at the plate for the Phillies, but he isn’t much loved by Phillies fans, in no small part because his effort and attention wane in just this fashion, often to spectacularly negative results. I’ll say this for him: his couple of boners on this night added a little comedy to what was otherwise a formality on Washington’s march to an NL East crown. By September you’ve seen just about everything you’re going to see in a baseball season, except for the truly bizarre. We should be grateful! Good, uhh, hustle.