As I ready myself for the home opener (i.e. paint my face and put on my Twins unitard), I replayed the final play of the Twins/White Sox series several times to figure out, you know, just what the hell happened. Here is a list of things that should be noteworthy as the play unfolded:
(1) Juan Pierre has a historically bad arm. Last year his arm was -2 runs defensive (10th worst in MLB). According to the Fans Scouting Report at InsideTheBook.com, Pierre’s arm strength rating of 1.3 (out of 5) was the second-worst among left fielders, ahead of only Johnny Damon. Given the play deep against the USCellular wall, Pierre has to make (1a) a very strong throw and (1b) a very accurate throw.
(2) The infield defense was pulled around to the right for the Thome shift. Not a lot of teams work on cut offs from this alignment. If anything, you could bet there would be some sort of defensive breakdown under a scenario like that. The shortstop, Alexi Ramirez, who was supposed to be the cut on a ball hit to left field, was actually near center field. The third baseman, Mark Teahan, broke for third base then back out to the outfield to position himself for a cut. "I've never been on a team where the third baseman was the relay man in left-center," Hardy said. "That's what's weird about it."
Ullger admitted that he was not focused on Teahan, he was looking at (3) Alexi Ramirez, the designated cut-off man in that situation, who for the record, has what is considered an inaccurate arm. The human fungo bat committed six throwing errors last year and was scouted by the fans as having a 2.6 rating for arm accuracy. That, coupled with being completely out-of-position, makes it easier to keep that arm windmilling around for Hardy.
Only it wasn’t Ramirez who was fielding the relay, it was Mark Teahan and (4) Teahan has an absolute rocket for an arm. So now, 120 feet away from home plate, Teahan is lining up to receiving a cut from Pierre. At this point, Hardy is just about to round third when it is apparent that Pierre’s throw will reach Teahan and not careen off into the stands or skip up to him. Ullger can see this. It is developing right in front of him. Only, he’s looking towards Ramirez who is nowhere near the throw. Teahan fields it cleanly right as Hardy is pushing off third base and readies a throw to home. Reviewing the video, it is clear this is the point where Ullger realizes what has actually happened and wanders on to the playing surface (I thought he was going to try for the interception).
All this should probably be moot because (5) JJ Hardy is not fast. Still, with two outs, how isn’t Hardy already rounding second by the time the ball lands? Is he THAT slow? Truthfully, he might be. He’s gone from first to home on just a handful of occasions in his career. He doesn’t steal bases. According to the BillJamesOnline.net player profile, Hardy’s running skills are in the 11th percentile. That’s slow. At the same time, Thome's shot was on a rope so it is hard to get up to speed as quickly as the ball traveled (not to mention, Pierre was playing just a few steps short of the warning track anyways).
But at the same time (6) Nick Punto was due up next. Coming into the game, Punto was 2-for-12 and a 1-for-4 lifetime hitter off of Bobby Jenks. With just Alexi Casilla – who was going to have to go in for Thome in the event of a tie – and Drew Butera remaining on the bench, there was no other option to face Jenks with two outs. In retrospect, yeah, letting Punto have a shot at driving in one or more runs wasn't such a bad option.