For once the focus of a Dodgers game was not on Yasiel Puig in right field, but on Billy Hamilton coming out of the dugout to try to keep his perfect streak as a pinch runner going after stealing the all-time professional record 155 bases last year in the minor leagues. Dodger’s pitcher Paco Rodriguez was as mesmerized by him as every other person in the park; step off the mound, step off the mound again, pick-off attempt, strike, fake pickoff, walk off the mound to talk to infielders, strike, pick-off attempt, and finally Hamilton took off to a roar …
The Reds new secret weapon stole second base standing up. The catcher bobbled the ball trying to rush a throw. The Dodgers broadcast team on the Fox Sports 1 affiliate said with a laugh that it didn’t even look like Hamilton took enough steps to go from first to second base.
In Rickey Henderson’s record 1982 season with Oakland he stole 130 bases – 25 fewer than Hamilton stole last year in a shorter season.
Against the Cardinals he had his first appearance as a pinch runner, and immediately stole second and scored the only run in a 1-0 win. He came in again the next night to challenge perhaps the best catcher of the era, and beat Yadier Molina’s throw to second for another steal, coming around to erase the one-run lead the Cardinals grabbed in the top of the 14th, though the Cardinals did win in 16 innings.
Friday was the first time Hamilton took the field with a lead. He stole the base Friday on an 0-2 count to Joey Votto, and the steal seemed to so rattle Rodriguez who then walked Vitto and then loaded the bases with no outs. For the first time this season Hamilton did not score, perhaps distracted by former San Francisco Giants’ Brian Wilson and his huge black beard, as he was doubled off on a liner back to the pitcher.
That left Reds ace reliever Aroldis Chapman with only a 3-2 lead with the Dodgers’ scary second through cleanup hitters of Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez, who hit a homer in the first inning, coming up. Chapman hit 102 mph on the gun again in blowing away all three.
The Reds are now within 2 ½ games of the Pirates for first, and one game of the Cardinals for second place with Mat Latos – ranked as the 4th most valuable player at www.valueaddbaseball.com – going up against Zack Greinke – who is already up to 12th despite missing a good part of the early season, Saturday.
Hamilton will only be an option as a pinch runner for the final 20 regular season games while September call-ups are allowed to swell rosters from 25 to 40 players, but that is what matters to the Reds. The 80-62 Reds need to beat out the 81-58 Pirates and 80-60 Cardinals to let those two have the one-game playoff and let the Reds have a full series.
The fastest player (Hamilton) and fastest pitch (Chapman) help give them a chance.