Jose Molina will always be known for one thing: his defense at the catcher position, and especially his pitch framing. But lately, his hitting has come into focus as he’s 21 for his last last 58 (.362) after going 2 for 3 with a walk on Sunday versus the Yankees. And now, at long last, Jose Molina finally had a game in his career where he stood out for the final piece of puzzle: his baserunning. Against New York, Molina somehow found a way to stand out on both ends of the baserunning spectrum: the horribly bad and the surprisingly good.
In the 6th inning, the Rays had the bases loaded in 2 outs with Jose Molina coming up to the plate against Ivan Nova. What followed was quite possibly the most bizarre 6-4-3 double plays in the history of baseball. Molina hit a groundball past the mound to Yankees shortstop Jayson Nix, who flipped to Robinson Cano for the force as the runner, Kelly Johnson, bore down. When the second baseman gets the ball with the runner rapidly approaching, usually he has a limited set of options. 1) He can catch the ball and stand firm as the runner approaches, risking injury or at least a weaker throw. 2) He can catch the ball and leap over the runner to avoid contact. 3) He can catch the ball and step to the side to try to evade the runner. Robinson Cano chose the third option. He made the catch and then stepped towards shortstop to avoid Johnson’s slide. In doing so, however, his momentum was going in the wrong direction and despite his strong arm, he knew he might not have much on the throw. So he stepped towards home plate. And then he stepped again, towards first base. And then again. And again. And for good measure, Cano took a a fifth step towards first before throwing the ball to Lyle Overbay to beat Molina by a couple of steps and complete the double play. See it for yourself. No, Jose Molina is not known for his speed. But Cano had enough time to take six steps? Jose, we know you’re not fast, but you do at least have to try. Please.
But Molina redeemed himself in the 8th inning. After lining his second hit of the game off of Joba Chamberlain, Molina was going on an apparent hit-and-run (seems doubtful that Molina would straight-steal) and the ball hit off of catcher Austin Romine‘s glove, allowing Molina to go into second base without a throw. What? Molina went from the most guaranteed out in the world on a double play to sliding in without out a throw? This begs an obvious question: had Romine thrown to second base after he got to the ball that got away from him, would Molina have been out? Did Molina use his Jedi mind-framing powers to make Romine miss the ball and forget the fundamental principle that Molina is always out as long as you make a throw? I would like to suggest an alternate interpretation. Jose Molina: he doesn’t always run, and he rarely runs hard, but when he does, there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Austin Romine is just a padawan. As he gains experience in the major leagues (well, if he hits enough to stay there), he will understand the life-changing experience he and by extension, the entire baseball-watching world has been through.
Molina’s baserunning travails from Sunday may seem like a paradox. You may feel like you have seen something unearthly. The feeling is natural. Carry on.