October 25, 2013
Shane Victorino and the Hunt for the Elusive 9-3 Putout
According to his SABR bio, “Wild Bill” Johnson, the Tigers’ ace at the dawn of the last century, was described by sportswriters at the time as both a “slant ball pitcher” and “a giant (who) pitches, hits and fields equally well.” In his six postseason starts in 1907, 1908, and 1909, he had a 2.88 ERA but never did live up to that second portion.
The career .193 hitter went 0-for-16 in the postseason. He almost had a hit in Game 4 of the 1907 World Series, going up against Orval Overall—who was also in the news when Anibal Sanchez tied his previously unmatched record of four strikeouts in a postseason inning.
Wild Bill hit one to Cubs right fielder Frank “Wildfire” (no relation) Schulte, who denied him that base hit by fielding the ball and throwing to first for the out.
That’s the 106-year-old history that Shane Victorino stares down every time he fields a ball in right and thinks hey, there might be a shot at this. Nobody has achieved the 9-3 putout since in the postseason, though Lord knows Victorino has tried.
He tried in the ALCS against Jose Iglesias, who responded with a dismissive wave. In Game 1 of the World Series, he nearly ended the night by coming up throwing on David Freese, who slid in and was safe by a minuscule fraction of a second.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said it’s not something that Victorino and first baseman Mike Napoli have any sort of code for, just a feel for each other that the outfielder might come up throwing any time a ball is hit hard.
“The one thing that our guys have become accustomed to is what other guys in the lineup or on the field at the same time are likely to do,” Farrell said. “So they anticipate a certain play and that’s one.”
It’s not a play that typically works on the likes of Freese. Not that he’s anything special in the speed department; it’s just that Wild Bill was more the target demographic.
Four of the last five 9-3 putouts have been with pitchers running the bases. In addition to pitchers not being blessed runners, a good part of it is the fact that right fielders tend to play shallow when pitchers are batting, with little fear of a ball going over their heads.
The last five 9-3 putouts are available for embed on MLB.com, so I’ve pulled them all here because they’re really all special in their own ways. It’s delightful viewing to notice that moment in the announcer’s mind when he realizes the same thing the outfielder has already recognized, sometimes even before fielding the ball.
September 13, 2012: Carlos Beltran gets Josh Beckett
September 7, 2011: Jeff Francoeur gets Michael Taylor
August 9, 2010: Hunter Pence gets Mike Minor
In all, there have been 27 putouts of the 9-3 variety since 1990, and 19 of the victims have been pitchers. But look through all of them, and you’ll notice that there are no good hitters here (maybe Tony Fernandez 20-something years ago qualifies).
Here’s the list, with a huge abundance of Larry Walker, who had three in a row from 1992-95.
The list appears to lend credence to some element of respect in letting a guy who “earned” a hit get a hit. How is there no Molina of any kind here? No Prince Fielder. No Pujols, injured or not injured? It’s remotely possible that there were no opportunities, but more likely this play isn’t out to get them. It’s out to prey on the weak, the pitchers who dare put a competitive at-bat together and the hitters like Taylor who need welcoming to the majors.
There’s also some small thought, though the Cardinals made no issue of this in their press briefings, that it’s not kosher in an 8-1 game. Nineteen of the last 27 were either in tie games or one-run games when that run means so much.
Victorino will go at pretty much any player at any time, though. He even took a shot at Miguel Cabrera during the regular season.
Some day before he retires, he’ll get his man. The only thing that might slow him down would be if the overqualified right fielder moves to center next year should Jacoby Ellsbury leave town. But hey, there’s been a putout at first from left field, so nothing’s impossible.
Thanks to Rob McQuown for copious research assistance.