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Archive for June 15th, 2011

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

Jose Reyes entered last night’s action as one of the hottest hitters in baseball, so naturally, the Atlanta Braves’ game plan centered on slowing the speedster down. Apparently, however, the team took that mandate just a bit too literally as even the grounds crew wound up getting in on the act.

The Braves were unsuccessful in their attempt to slow Jose Reyes down (Photo: AP).

There was nothing unusual about Jose Reyes’ infield single that led off yesterday’s game at Turner Field. It was not only the shortstop’s major league leading 95th hit, but also the 23rd time he started the first inning with a safety. In fact, Reyes’ early trip on the base paths was so far within the realm of reasonable expectations, the Braves had a surprise for the speedster lying in wait.

After reaching first base, Reyes barely avoided being nabbed on successive pickoff attempts by starter Jair Jurrjens. On both occasions, the Mets’ speedster spun out with his first step back to the bag, making it seem as if he was stuck in the mud. As things turned out, that’s exactly what happened.

Entering yesterday’s game, the Mets were second in the National League with 60 stolen bases, while the Braves were dead last with 19. Faced with such a significant speed gap, the Braves took a page out of gamesmanship 101 and instructed their groundskeeper to spend some extra time making sure the first base area was well lubricated for that evening’s game. Unfortunately for the Braves, however, first base umpire Bill Miller was not playing along.

After Reyes slipped for the second time, Miller halted the game and ordered that a drying agent be used to soak up some of the mud conveniently located just about where a base stealer would take his lead. After play resumed, Reyes promptly stole second base, providing justification for the Braves’ pre-game preparations. By the end of the night, the Mets had swiped four bags, including a second steal by Reyes.

I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t care. If it’s wet, I’m going to try and steal anyway. They can do whatever they want to.” – Jose Reyes, quoted in the New York Post, June 15, 2011

Although perhaps guilty of overzealousness, the Atlanta Braves aren’t the first team to accentuate strengths and minimize weaknesses by altering their home field. Throughout baseball’s colorful history, tailored mounds, slanted baselines, thick infield grass, roving fences and various other tactics have been frequently used to gain an edge. In fact, one of the most famous, and infamous, examples of creative field maintenance involved the very same approach used by the Braves against the Mets. What’s more, some people contend that the tactic helped decide the 1962 pennant. (more…)

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