Last night there was no Mariners game thanks to stupid roofless stadiums, but there was a Tacoma Rainiers game. I was in attendance ostensibly to see Marco Gonzales pitch, who was also not there thanks to stupid inflamed biceps. (Instead I saw Chase De Jong. You’ll hear more about that later.)
There’s no WPA stat kept for minor league games, but if there was, Ian Miller’s would have been eye-popping. With the game tied and one out in the second, Miller triggered a scoring rally with this series of plays, what I’ve nicknamed the “Ian Miller Double”: an infield single and a stolen base.
Dakota Hudson, St. Louis’s 2016 first round pick, was on the hill for Memphis. Hudson, recently promoted to Triple-A, did everything he could to keep Miller on first base: he threw over multiple times, he held the ball as long as he could before going into his motion, he looked over his shoulder, he rushed 95 mph fastballs to the plate. Surely this would keep the speedy Miller safely tethered to first base.
[Narrator voice: It did not.]
Miller would eventually come around to score, and the Rainiers would tack on two more runs to take a 3-1 lead. Hudson would only last three innings, with his pitch count taking a hit in each of the first two innings. I enjoy the disdainful way the catcher throws the ball there to try to nab a running Miller. It reminds me of this quote he gave when I wrote about him this offseason:
“The teams know I'm running, the groundskeeper knows I'm running, the fans and the guys selling the peanuts know I’m running, but regardless, you won't be able to stop me.”
The Rainiers would fail to score again for the next six innings; meanwhile, a powerful Memphis lineup crept out to a 4-3 lead against starter Chase De Jong. Tacoma came into the bottom of the ninth needing a rally. Thanks to Ian Miller, they got one.
In his last at-bat, Memphis pitcher Mark Montgomery had quick-pitched Miller, getting a called strike over before Miller had time to dig into the batter’s box. Miller wasn’t going to let that happen again against closer Josh Lucas.
My absolute favorite part of this gif is the first baseman’s reaction.
Miller also wouldn’t wait around to steal his next base, going on the first pitch of Zach Shank’s at-bat:
Gabriel Lino’s throw was slightly off-line and behind Miller, forcing Aledmys Diaz to twist around awkwardly, and he missed the tag. Miller’s speed forces opponents to be perfect defensively, and yet that very same speed is a distracting, destructive force that causes some very bad baseball decisions, such as the one the right-handed Lucas makes here on Shank’s bunt:
So now instead of a runner at third and one out, Lucas has runners at the corners with none out. When they say “speed kills,” this is what they mean; it isn’t just the speed itself, but the poor snap decisions that get made, the loss of baseball fundamentals like make a good throw over to first or take the sure out as the brain goes into panic mode. Josh Lucas, prior to tonight, was 8-0 with 11 saves over 52.2 innings. But facing a Rainiers lineup that doesn’t possess big power numbers but does have plenty of speed—Miller, Shank, Powell, O’Malley, and Motter all have decent to plus speed—Lucas’s snap decision would prove costly to his perfect W-L record.
Boog Powell would follow with a clean single to right, scoring Miller to tie the game. Shawn O’Malley would then advance the runners with a groundout, and then with runners at second and third with just one out, Taylor Motter hit a walk-off single to win the game for Tacoma. Memphis had a choice between pitching to Motter or walking him to get to Vogelbach with the bases loaded; either way, with just one out, the Rainiers were already in a good position to win the game (oh, for minor league WPA numbers). And it all started with this guy, who made it all the way around the bases tonight, twice, without hitting the ball out of the infield:
That is, in fact, what speed do.