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Coral Gables A's Stories: To Steal, or Not to Steal?

The Coral Gables A's took on the defending champion Mets this past weekend. The game featured plenty of action and a little bit of controversy.


The Coral Gables A's took on the defending champion Mets this past weekend

The Coral Gables A’s, America’s funniest men’s league baseball team, took on the “New York” Mets this past weekend, the team who eliminated us in the playoffs last season. As usual, the A’s kept it interesting ‘til the very end.


 

 

Last week I gave you a bird’s eye view of the A’s-Suela rivalry. Both teams have won four league titles and a bunch more in national tournaments that we’ve often faced them in. There’s also always been some salt on this beef, so our games are usually interesting in ways other than the actual gameplay.

 

If you were to add a third team to the mix, however, a third superpower to shift the tides surrounding the men’s league baseball landscape, it would be the Mets, who are the defending champions after taking down Suela in 2023.

 

We lost to them 8-6 in the semis last season in a heartbreaker. Wasted opportunities and bad, bad, bad baserunning did us in. The Mets have arguably the best lineup in the league, headed by Alexei Ramirez, who played nine years in the Major Leagues, was an All-Star, won two Silver Slugger awards. They are going to score. Their pitching is so-so, though. That’s where you can exploit them.

 

Contrary to the bare bones lineup we trotted out in our last confrontation against Suela, we were stacked for this game. Alexei was not there this past Sunday, which was, obviously, good for the cause.

 

The fireworks started early.

 

Early Struggles

 

We’ve been having issues in the first inning over the past few weeks. Amed started this game, the pitching hero from the Suela game a few weeks ago. The Mets were on everything he was throwing from the get-go, and we couldn’t blame sign-stealing this time around. They can just fucking hit, man. A few walks and a big double were the main culprits behind a three-run first. Another early hole to climb out of.

 

The Mets usually have the same pitching approach. They start a short righty who throws a ton of junk, a ton of strikes, and tries to get you to pop it up. Cutters, sliders, curveballs, and change-ups. Nothing straight. Anything in any count. He’s maybe touching 80 MPH if he reaches back for something extra, but that’s only after he’s thrown you a bunch of slow shit. That 80 MPH cutter looks like 95 in that moment. He’s also very talkative, to his team and the opponent. If he owns you, you’re gonna hear about it. If you own him, he’ll tell his defense why you own him, and how he plans on rectifying that. If he disagrees with a call, the home plate umpire will hear about it. Whatever happens, it’s a show when he’s on the bump.

 

The swaggy shorty will eat as many innings as he can, then they’ll bring in their hard throwers. This gives you a completely different look that can be difficult to adjust to as a hitter. Their main closer/reliever is a tall righty with enormous Johnny Cueto-style dreadlocks. He’s usually around 87-88 and can get it into the 90s when he needs to. He has a sharp, but inconsistent, breaking ball. They have a few other decent relievers as well, who throw from a side-arm or low three-quarter arm slot, but the dreadlock guy is their go-to.

 

The starter escaped a leadoff walk to throw a scoreless first inning. I took him deep the first time we played them this year, so I came up to the plate expecting a ton of off-speed stuff. First pitch cutter at the knees for a strike. Second pitch cutter above the zone that I chase, strike two. Third pitch cutter on the inner half that I swing under. Strike three. Good morning, good afternoon, goodnight. He challenged me and won, then stared me down all the way back to the dugout. Very good piece of pitching by the little bastard.

 

They tacked on one more in the second inning to make it 4-zip. We’ve been digging ourselves into these huge holes as of late. We have a good lineup, thankfully. But this needs to be cleaned up.

 

2nd Inning

 

We got our first run in the bottom half of the 2nd after a leadoff hit by Matt, a walk by Willy, a HBP by Dee, and an Xavier walk. Xavier is our usual starting shortstop; we call him X. The second run came in after a SAC fly by Francisco, a speedy outfielder who goes by Cisco. It was now 4-2 with two outs and two men on, and Juany, our leadoff hitter and centerfielder, coming up.

 

Juany worked a great at bat here. If their starter issues two walks in a game, it’s uncharacteristic. But for him to walk four batters in the first few innings is unheard of. His pinpoint control was nowhere to be found and the home plate umpire had a relatively tight zone. A recipe for a good day at the plate. Juany drew a walk to load the bases and bring me to the plate.

 

I’m really not one to guess pitches. I usually go over how I think they’re going to pitch me in the on-deck circle, then I let this information sink into my subconscious, trusting that it will inform my approach when the time comes. When I’m in the box, I think as little as I can. I’ve never liked selling out for a certain pitch, barring an extreme circumstance. This was that extreme circumstance.

 

As you remember, this dude struck me out on three cutters my first at bat. Here is it, try and hit it. I didn’t. What’s more, his command was nowhere to be found, and with the bases juiced, nowhere to put me. I knew, I absolutely knew, he was gonna go right after me with his cutter. I could feel it down in ma plumsss. I also knew I was gonna tattoo that weak ass shit.


I went deeeep for the Coral Gables A's this past weekend

Did I ever. First pitch cutter, low and in. Started over the heart of the plate and darted down and in. I abused it, sending it halfway up the netting behind the right centerfield fence, on a line. I don’t know what kind of exit velocity I’m capable of producing, but that grand slam was my max. There’s nothing more in the tank. I could not have hit that ball better.

 

6-4, good guys.

 

Oscar

 

We swapped Amed for Oscar. Oscar is a young kid who is in his first season with the A’s. He’s got a decent fastball, but lives off his curveball and slider. He had not been scored upon across his first two appearances before this past Sunday, which amounted to eight innings of work. He’s good.

 

But the Mets just never stops hitting.

 

He gave up one in the 3rd after two hits and a stolen base to make it 6-5. Their starter settled down and threw a scoreless bottom half. Oscar returned the favor in the 4th with a zero of his own. Their starter was replaced by the hard-throwing deadlock guy, who escaped a walk and a hit to keep us at six after the 4th inning. Oscar ran into some trouble again in the 5th, most of which occurred with two outs.

 

Their 3rd batter and right fielder was a menace this game, walking his first at bat, hitting a double his second at bat, a triple his third at bat, then chipping in a single for good measure. The extra base hits both went over Cisco’s head in rightfield, which is no small feat. If Cisco can’t get to a ball with his wheels, you know you’ve done some damage. The triple came off Oscar in the 5th, which brought in a run. He then scored on a flare over second base. It was 7-6, Mets, after the 5th.


Side-Arm Excellence

 

The dreadlock guy was replaced after two innings, which was odd. He’s usually good for at least three or four. The pitcher they brought in had everything working, however. A fastball, slider, and change-up thrown from a side-arm delivery. He didn’t throw extraordinarily hard, probably something in the mid-80s, but he had a quick delivery that made it appear faster than it was.

 

We still managed to get runners in scoring position against him in the 6th, when something controversial happened.

 

After a lineout by Alex, our catcher, X gets hit by a pitch and Cisco walks against the new arm. Juany comes up and nearly hits a three-run jack, but it’s caught at the base of the wall. Neither runner was tagging, so I’m now up with man on first and second, two down, and us down by one.

 

The Foul That Wasn't


A common approach for side-armers against hitters of the opposite hand (lefty against righty or righty against lefty) is to go soft away and hard in. Since side-armers release the ball way out wide, it’s difficult for them to throw the pitch all the way across their body so it crosses the inside part of the plate. For this reason, lefties often creep a little closer to the plate when they’re facing a righty side-armer, and hunt a pitch away from them. Something they can extend their arms on and crush. If he throws a slider, it’ll break low and in to where lefties usually love the ball anyway (if you remember, that’s the spot I hit a grand slam off of earlier in the game). In general, side-armers struggle against hitters of the opposite hand.

 

To keep them honest, however, they’ll employ the soft away, hard in approach, meaning they’ll throw their fastball inside and their off-speed pitches outside. The opposite of what the hitter is expecting, essentially. This is difficult because of where they’re releasing the ball, but if the pitcher knows what he’s doing, he’ll have these pitches in his quiver.

 

The first pitch I saw was a fastball dotted on the inside corner for strike one. “Ah,” I thought, “this isn’t a jabroni.” The next pitch was a slider in the dirt that got by the catcher. Both runners advanced. Second and third now. The count eventually went to full and I battled off a few good pitches. He was sticking to the soft away/hard in formula, so it was just about who was going to beat who. He wasn’t going to fool me with anything.

 

He throws a fastball inside and up near the top of the zone. A good pitch that’s tough to get a piece of. I swing, I feel contact being made, and the ball goes by the catcher to the backstop. I don’t even consider that this is a strike. That’s a foul ball and we’ll do it again. But then, to ruin a perfectly good at bat, the catcher scoops up the ball, notices the call the umpire made, and tags me out for strike three. He ruled that I had swung and missed, strike three. Since the ball got by the catcher, it was live, which is why he tagged me for the final out of the inning.

 

This, my friends…was some bullshit, let me tell you. I nicked that pitch. I know I got a piece of it. You’re telling me their catcher, who was good, just flat out whiffed on a fastball in the strike zone? The pitch rocketed to the backstop at almost full speed. If it didn’t touch my bat, the catcher completely missed it. Highly unlikely. I tried to plead my case with the umpire, to no avail. That was a Jazz Hands-level call.

 

7-6 Mets, after the 5th.


Iron Mike



Oscar was done after three innings, giving way to Mike. I’ve touched upon Mike before, but he is filthy, mixing four pitches that can each get swings and misses in any count. He pitched at the University of Miami.

 

Runs are precious when Mike is on the bump, and he was on his A-game last Sunday. He and their side-armer were both lights out in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings. Mike K’d the side in the top of the 9th, capping off his day with four innings, no runs allowed, two hits, and six strikeouts. Nasty work.

 

We go to the bottom of the 9th, side-armer still in the game.


Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

 

X leads off the 9th and works a walk. Huge. Cisco follows and tries twice to get a bunt down. A sacrifice with Cisco is effectively a bunt for a hit, since he’s so fast. His first attempt he fouls straight back. His second attempt rolls near the first base line in fair territory, but hits the lip of the grass and rolls foul. He ends up flying out and X stays at first.

 

Now we get to Juany and a big debate. There’s one out, tying run on first. Juany is up, who you’ll remember hit a ball to the track off this guy his last time up. I am on deck. X is our best base-stealer, as he led the team with nine last season in ten attempts.

 

There are a lot of ways to play this if you’re a manager. Juany is a good bunter and the third baseman was giving him plenty of room to lay one down. Do you tell him to bunt for a hit? At worst, it advances the runner if the third baseman, catcher, or pitcher make a hell of a play to get Juany at first. Or it goes foul and he swings away from then on.

 

You could also send X. Their catcher had a good, but inconsistent arm. He had already thrown one into centerfield earlier in the game on a steal attempt. Now you’ve negated the failed sacrifice by Cisco.

 

Or you could just let the chips fall where they may with Juany. Let him hit, tell X to stay put, which all but ensures I get a shot, assuming he doesn’t hit into a game-ending double play. Both Juany and X run well and Juany hits a lot of balls in the air, so this is not a likely outcome.

 

Nick, our manager, goes with the last option. His main goal was to get me to the plate representing the winning run. The interesting part happens when the count goes to 3-2.

 

3-2 is a popular time to steal because, in the event of a walk, you can’t be thrown out. Matt is coaching first at this time, helping X read the pitcher’s pickoff move. Matt and X come together after the pitch that made it 3-2, and decide this was a good time to take a risk. Here's what could have happened as a result of this decision:

 

Option 1: Juany walks/HBP. Steal doesn’t matter.

Option 2: Juany gets a hit. X has a chance to score if it’s in the gap, given his running start.

Option 3: Juany flies out. X returns to first.

Option 4: Juany grounds out. X advances to 2nd since there would be no play there.

Option 5: Juany lines out. X is in danger of getting doubled up at first and ending the game.

Option 6: Juany strikes out. X is safe on the steal.

Option 7: Juany strikes out. X is out on the steal. Game over.

 


These are the seven realistic outcomes of X stealing in this situation. Five of them are either positive or neutral. I will get a chance to tie or win the game. The other two are bad and end the game for us, with me being left in the on-deck circle.

 

Well, one of the poopy ones happened. The pitcher zipped an outside fastball by the swinging Juany; a perfect pitch for the catcher to throw on. It might’ve been a ball, but it was far too close to take. The catcher, of course, made his best throw of the day, putting it on the money to nab a sliding X. Strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out. Game over. Mets win, 7-6.

 

Nick was none too pleased with this decision, especially since he had explicitly said to stay put to increase the chances of me hitting again. It caused an argument after the game. Matt took ownership of it, saying it was his idea due to the full count.


Fortune Favors the Bold

 

To me, the freelancing is the worst part. The decision itself was sound. I understand Nick's reasoning and that it’s important I get a chance there. But I also like the aggressiveness, and I think it was a well-calculated risk that happened to blow up in our face in spectacular fashion. Nick, Isaac, who also helps manage the team, and I go back and forth each week about strategies. I’m usually the one wanting to be the most aggressive. The odds were in our favor on this decision, but we came up short. It happens.

 

We beat the Mets early in the season, but this game was eerily similar to the one we lost against them in the playoffs last season, in which baserunning helped decide the outcome between two good offenses. We need to avoid the slow starts and always be on the same page as we get closer to playoff time.

 

Next Sunday we play the Thunders Kings. Yes, that is their name. Says so on our league page. Says so on their jerseys. Thunders, plural. Let’s just say, English is not their first language. But these guys can play, they are one game back from us in the standings for first place.


Stay tuned!



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