On Friday night, the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1 in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series (GameTracker). The Yankees' lone run came on a ninth-inning homer from first baseman Greg Bird. Yet it was a different play involving Bird that will have Yankees fans talking until Game 2 begins on Saturday afternoon.
The controversial decision happened in the top of the fifth inning. The Yankees were already trailing 2-0 when Aaron Judge hit a two-out single to left-center field. Bird, who had led off the inning with a single of his own, attempted to score from second base. Alas, Bird's plan was foiled by left fielder Marwin Gonzalez, who ended the frame with a strong throw home:
"Well, that was their best moment in the game," Gonzalez said after the game. "All I was thinking was to go get the ball as fast as I could, since I knew he was on second and I knew that that was the only chance to get a chance on home plate."
Because the Yankees lost by a run, it's natural to look back and question whether New York would've been better served stopping Bird at third base, thereby allowing Gary Sanchez to bat with the bases loaded. It's a fair question -- especially knowing that Bird tied with Matt Holliday as the second-slowest runner on the Yankees squad, per Statcast's regular-season numbers.
What, then, was Yankees' third-base coach Joe Espada thinking? Probably the same thing Espada's Boston Red Sox counterpart, Brian Butterfield, was thinking when he sent Mitch Moreland home on Gonzalez in Game 4 of the ALDS. Though that play ended with the same result, it speaks to the idea that the scouting report on Gonzalez is to run, run, run. Why?
Presumably, part of the overzealousness to test Gonzalez has to do with his newness to the outfield. He entered the postseason having appeared in just 86 games on the pasture -- and 48 of those came this year. In addition to being new to the position, Gonzalez hasn't forged a reputation for throwing out baserunners -- he has all of four regular-season assists in his career.
A deeper dive into the numbers reveals that teams have ran on Gonzalez to good effect. For his career, he's seen 38 situations where a runner was either on second base when a single was hit; on first base when a double was hit; or on third base in a sac-fly situation. Of those 38 situations, 19 saw the baserunner go for the plate -- just one of those 19 ended with Gonzalez nailing the runner at the plate, per Baseball Reference.
That's right -- Gonzalez has thrown out more baserunners at home plate as a left fielder in five games this postseason than he had in his first 86 combined. Obviously not all opportunities are created equal -- and Lord knows Gonzalez has shown he can uncork some impressive throws. But with that statistical background, it's more understandable why the Yankees, like the Red Sox before them, decided to test Gonzalez.
Besides, a ship isn't meant to stay docked, and a third-base coach isn't meant to stay perfect -- if one has a 100 percent success rate on their sends, that means they aren't taking enough chances. Outfielders and catchers both err. Neither Gonzalez nor Brian McCann did on Friday night, however, and that's part of the reason the Astros lead the best-of-seven series 1-0.