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|In 15 games this season, the Padres are 17-for-20 in stolen base attempts.|
“"We don't try to steal third base unless we've done everything we can to make sure we can make it,'' said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "There is no excuse for being thrown out at third. [Rangers baserunning coach] Gary [Pettis] does a great job with video. You see tendencies from other teams. With advance scouts, there is so much more information out there. When we start a series, we go to second base and show the area where you have to get to if you're going to steal third. If you don't get to that point, you don't go.'' But if they get to that point, they go, even with two outs. That is the one big difference between now and 10 years ago, and especially 30 years ago. "I still don't like to do that,'' Roberts said. "I bet I didn't steal third once last year with two outs. My dad [Mike, a former baseball coach at North Carolina] taught me not to.'' Last season, with no outs, there were 67 steals of third and 25 caught stealings. With one out, there were 209 steals and 80 caught stealings. With two outs, there were 139 steals and only 16 caught stealings. Through Thursday, there had been six steals with none out, 15 with one out, and 22 steals, with three caught stealing, with two outs. That's more steals of third base with two outs than with one out. "In our era, we were afraid to steal third with two outs,'' said Washington, who began his major league career in 1977, and finished in 1989. "Kids today aren't afraid today because they don't take responsibility for their mistakes anymore. And, when a hitter gets to second, the pitcher is concentrating on the hitter. It's easier to be a daring baserunner today.'' There is a debate in baseball about the importance of getting to third base, even with two outs. "I'm baffled by people who don't think it's important,'' said Bowa. "There are eight more ways to score from third than there is from second, like with an error or a wild pitch. The pressure on the infielder is greater with a man on third. If you have a nasty split, you can't bury one, or bury a curveball, for fear of a wild pitch. Then he flattens one out, and someone hits it hard somewhere. It changes the mindset when you get a man to third.'' "There were no split-fingered fastballs when I played, just Jack Morris and [Willie] Hernandez," said Washington. "Now, everyone throws one. We don't have defensive catchers like we used to. We don't have catchers who get dirty. [Jason] Varitek is a veteran catcher who gets dirty. [Joe] Mauer is young, but he gets the dirty. We have a lot of catchers using smaller mitts who are swiping at the ball instead of getting in front of it. With catchers like that today, if we can get to third base no matter how many outs, we're going.'' There are also more and more left-handed pitchers in the game nowadays. Through Thursday, of all pitchers that had made at least one start, 29.9 percent were left-handed; in 2005, it was 27.3 percent. Roberts says he doesn't believe it is easier to steal third against a left-hander, but through Thursday, 16 steals of third were attempted against lefties, 15 were successful. "It is much easier to steal third against a left-hander,'' Bowa said. "When a runner gets a good lead off second, the pitcher has to literally turn his head all the way around to see him.'' Lefties, righties, one out, two outs, the biggest reason that there are more steals of third base these days is the change in the way the game is played -- it is no longer slow-pitch softball. "Seven years ago, you didn't ever give up an out on the bases because the next guy up might hit a home run, it was a power game,'' said Roberts. "But there aren't many 50-homer guys now. Teams are going small-ball. The speed has increased in the game so much. Teams are going younger and younger. They are so much more athletic. That's a huge part of it.'' "We're playing more baseball today than we did five years ago," said Washington. "We're running the bases again, we're putting pressure on the defense. We're going back to hitting-and-running, and stealing. Not everyone is trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark these days.'' Bowa agreed: "A lot of organizations are going that way. It has been a big shift in philosophy.'' So, get used to more and more steals of third base. On Wednesday night, the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen stole second and third base in the first inning. And Astros first baseman Lance Berkman, who is just coming off knee surgery, was thrown out trying to steal third. "Loney has three [stolen bases], but we hit two foul balls when he had third base stolen,'' said Bowa. "He could have five. They don't even look at him.'' But if this keeps up, pitchers will have to.
It is much easier to steal third [base] against a left-hander. When a runner gets a good lead off second, the pitcher has to literally turn his head all the way around to see him.” -- Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book "Is This a Great Game, or What?" was published by St. Martin's Press and became available in paperback in May 2008. Click here to order a copy.