The 40,000-plus fans in Coors Field were sitting in bright sunshine on a recent Sunday afternoon, wondering if the hometown Colorado Rockies might be able to repel the Pittsburgh Pirates for a third straight game for a series sweep in a generally dismal season.
After the sixth inning they were instead shaking their heads in disbelief. That’s the thing about Major League Baseball. You can attend all 162 games in a year and none are the same. There is always some kind of wild and wacky play waiting to break out.
This play did not reflect well on the Rockies and pretty soon fans were citing it as a perfect symbol of what has gone wrong for their team this year, which is roughly 20 games below .500.
Pittsburgh’s leadoff batter Josh Harrison, who collected four hits in the game, was on first and set out to steal second base. The throw to Colorado shortstop Josh Rutledge produced a virtual tie. Harrison was barely safe, but slid past the bag. As Rutledge sought to sweep-tag him Harrison jumped up instead of seeking to regain second. He started running for third, whereupon he was surrounded by Rockies infielders as surely as Custer was at the battle of the Little Big Horn.
Harrison appeared just as dead, too – and should have been out easily. Only the Rockies began playing Little League catch, chasing Harrison every which way, including committing the serious sin of throwing the ball behind him as he headed towards third. As an illustration of how silly things got, Colorado catcher Chris Stewart was holding the ball while standing at shortstop as Harrison juked and swerved. Not only was Stewart faked off his feet, but as he fell he dropped the ball.
Harrison was not only safe at third for a second it seemed as if he might dash for the plate because he realized home was uncovered. About the same time one Rockies’ fielder recognized that potentially unfolding scenario and sprinted to intercept Harrison. Harrison returned to third, was driven home by the next batter and that was the lead run in a 7-5 Pittsburgh victory.
Rundowns in the majors do not end like that 99.9 percent of the time. They end with the base-runner trapped hopelessly and a fielder tapping him on the shoulder lightly for an out. Needless to note, the play showed up prominently on highlight shows, being displayed nationwide as evidence of Rockies incompetence.
In three of the four conversations that I had about the play after being an eyewitness at the park the other person used the term “Little League” in describing what they saw and two of them included the admonition that the first thing they were ever taught as child fielders was to chase the base runner back to the previous base. One sarcastic commentator cited the plate as the worst example of a horrible Colorado season without realizing I had been present for the offensive mistake.
It was difficult to deny that Harrison made fools out of the Rockies. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the entire event was that minus the close play at second that triggered the entire fiasco, Harrison had performed a similarly elusive magical base-running feat against the New York Mets a month earlier, also escaping a rundown.
So when someone said, “I’ve never seen that before” about Harrison’s ability to dodge taggers the way NFL return men dodge tacklers, all they had to do was go back a ways to review instant replay. Twice-in-a-lifetime embarrassment brought to you by Josh Harrison.