I have always considered the stealing of home to be one the most exciting plays in baseball. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching “The Sandlot,” and had Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez embedded into my memory at an impressionable age, but there’s just something about the accomplishment that makes you rise out of your seat on the couch with anticipation, just as if you were in a seat at the park. It’s one of those plays that happens so unpredictably fast, that it’s over before anyone knew it even began.
Yet, when Colorado Rockies rookie Chris Nelson stole home in the eighth inning of Thursday’s victory against the Cincinnati Reds, I found myself seated, and more than anything, confused about what had just happened. A rookie, stealing home—the 1st of his career, nonetheless—in a tie game, in the heart of a pennant race. Excweese me? Bacon Powder?
But now, days later and after watching far too many replays, I can’t help but believe that Nick Masset set himself up failure.
In a nutshell, Chris Nelson caught Nick Masset sleeping; it was honestly like a board game in which Nelson was 2 or 3 moves ahead of Masset, testing him a little more with each. That’s why when the Rockies’ dugout called for a suicide squeeze with runners on the corners and Miguel Olivo at the plate with a 1-1 count, Nelson had the balls to swipe home.
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“Once I made up my mind I was going, I was going,” Nelson said.
While this statement may be disconcerting to those who have not played before, to me it simply describes the mentality of a confident baseball player. And if you’re going to attempt a steal of home in the eighth inning of a tied game, at a point in the season in which every game is more important than the one preceding it, you better be confident.
Everyone watching the game could sense the momentum shifting in the Rockies favor after Troy Tulowitzki hit a bomb to leadoff the eighth. It was palpable.
But it was Masset that gave Nelson that extra boost in confidence by displaying a sense of vulnerability that indicated he was playing not to lose, rather than aggressively trying to bury the Rockies. Both the call of the suicide squeeze and Nelson’s decision to break early were intended to do exactly what they did: capitalize on the game’s shifting momentum and ultimately allow Masset to beat himself.
It sounds crazy, but even if Nelson had been tagged out at the plate, I still would have approved of Jim Tracy’s call for the squeeze in that particular situation. Tracy could tell that the wheels were falling off for Masset, and then applied the pressure at the perfect time. Even more impressive was the fact that Nelson recognized the same weakness in Masset, and then consciously improved upon his manager’s strategy. He made a veteran decision—and no, I don’t just mean that only a veteran ballplayer would be forgiven if they were tagged out at home—that reflected awareness beyond his years.
It was the type of play that unifies and ultimately inspires a ball club. And if the Rockies end up reaching the postseason, Nelson’s steal of home will undoubtedly be recognized as a major reason.