In the first inning of Tuesday’s 7-4 victory over the Cubs, Dale Sveum brought his infield in to face Aramis Ramirez in the first inning to give his infielders a chance to cut down Carlos Gomez (then at third) at the plate on a ground ball. As those in the announcers booth will remind you as the season progresses, there is a definite risk involved with this strategy: bringing the fielders in from their normal spots opens up more holes for ground balls to squirt through the infield. But they typically don’t mention a second risk: if you don’t get the out at the plate, the batter will also get first base, compounding the issues. And thanks to Gomez’s blazing speed, that’s exactly what happened.
Ramirez hit the ground ball the Cubs were looking for, a semi-sharp bouncer to first baseman Jeff Baker. But Baker’s throw is high, forcing Geovany Soto to make a long swipe tag against Gomez at the plate. The result?
Hand on plate, tag above body, and the Brewers lead 2-0 with just one out in the inning. The Brewers would go on to tack on three more runs in the first on an Alex Gonzalez home run. Ramirez was one of those three runs, and he was allowed to score as a result of the Cubs’ decision to go for the out at home combined with Gomez’s ability to avoid the tag.
A similar play happened on Opening Day against the Cardinals, again with Ramirez batting and Gomez on third. Instead of grounding to first, Ramirez grounded to third, where David Freese decided he didn’t even have a play on Gomez despite, again, a relatively hard-hit ball against a drawn-in infield. Why? Look where Gomez was by the time the ball was fielded:
To be fair, it looks like Freese had some trouble coming up with the ball cleanly — he would’ve had to set his feet before making an accurate throw to home plate. But still, in most cases a baserunner who takes off for home on that ball isn’t just out at the plate, it isn’t even close. Gomez’s speed changed the game in both situations, and it’s a big reason why he can be immensely valuable for the Brewers this season. If he can hit even remotely as well against lefties as he did last year — .278/.301/.556 — he’ll provide a total package at the plate, in the field and on the bases to go with proven players like Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and Aramis Ramirez.