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In Appreciation Of An Actual Good Defensive Play By The Red Sox

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It’s late summer, which I find to be one of the most melancholy times of year. And it isn’t merely the vestigial fears of school starting up again, or the shortening days and morning mists that make these weeks feel like a sad, slow, plaintive wail of a song. It’s more that, by mid-August, summer — which we greeted two months ago with all-caps excitement (SUMMER!) — becomes just another thing we’ve gotten used to; it becomes the norm, the default state, rather than what it is in early June, when summer is an idea that lights up our collective imaginations. Getting used to things — even and especially wonderful, beautiful things like a summer day — sucks.

But it isn’t just good things that we get used to. We get used to bad things, too. We have to, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to endure them. And then suddenly, when — in the same way that bare branches and salt stains give way to green grass and flowering rose bushes — the bad thing gives way to the good thing, we find we have a whole new appreciation for what we’ve been missing.

Yesterday afternoon the Red Sox made a defensive play that made me say “wow.” It wasn’t just a thing I said in my head; I said it out loud, to no one in particular and yet to everyone around me in my section of the State Street Pavilion above first base. And it wasn’t until I said the world “wow” out loud that I realized that the Red Sox defense hadn’t made me do that once this season, not one single time. Alex Verdugo and Connor Wong have had their moments, but it’s been four months of defensive winter at Fenway.

Here’s the play:

Let’s start with how it ends: the tag by Luis Urías. It’s notable that this tag was made right in front of the Tigers dugout, where master-tagger Javy Baez could see it. Brilliant baseball writer Joe Posnanski once called Javy Baez the best tagger in baseball history; and the proof of that, he wrote, was that, until he saw Javy Baez, he didn't think the best tagger in baseball history was a thing anyone could be. But for as brilliant as Baez has been at applying his glove to runners in creative and exciting ways, there was nothing he could have done to improve upon what Urias does here. The catch, the backwards spin, and the tag itself were all done to maximum efficiency: he could not have spun around any faster, or put the glove in any better spot. It was perfect, and that fact that, as I just somehow glossed over, it contained a backwards spin in the middle of it, makes the perfection that much more remarkable.

But let’s not let the brilliance of the tag itself distract from Trevor Story’s relay. That’s one of the more awkward relays a middle infielder will ever have to make, particularly because he’s so close to the bag. Refsnyder’s throw comes in strong, but high and fading towards the hole. Story has to leap, catch, turn, and throw in one motion. And because he’s so close to the bag, his throw has to be perfect; Urias won’t have enough time to react to a throw that’s a little bit off in any direction. Like Urias, Story makes the relay about as perfectly as possible. In the strictest sense of fundamental baseball, the throw would’ve been better if it had been directed towards the front of the bag, rather than over Urias’s left shoulder, which forced the aforementioned backward spin. But, looking at how Urias’s body is moving, I think the correct fundamental throw might have actually slowed him down. It’s possible that Urias’s left shoulder is the only place this throw could’ve gone to get an out.

Of course, it has to be said that the entire play starts with bad defense. Playing the Monster is really more about positioning than anything else. Here, it looks like Refsnyder starts this play on the edge of the warning track, which is almost always too deep in left field at Fenway. Having to first run too far to get to the looping flare, he then makes the poor decision to dive and doesn’t come up with it. “Triple,” the guy behind me immediately said when Refsnyder first left his feet. And it very nearly was.

Left field is, theoretically, either the easiest or second-easiest defensive position to play. But this was already the second poor play by a Red Sox left fielder this week. The first play was so weird that the poor defense was actually overshadowed by the overall strangeness of the play itself. I’m talking, of course, about the now famous ball that Kyle Isbel of the Royals hit into one of the scoreboard lightbulbs. That was by no means an easy play for Masataka Yoshida, but it was a play that a good left fielder probably makes, catching the ball long before it has a chance to make weird history. Unfortunately, we have clearly seen this year that Masataka Yoshida is not a good left fielder; he makes terrible jumps, bad reads, is awkward around the walls, and doesn’t bring anything to the table with his arm.

To the extent that Yoshida, Rafael Devers, Triston Casas, and Jarren Duran are integral parts of the Red Sox core for the next 4-5 years, defense may be a major issue for this team. Yoshida, Devers, and Casas all grade-out as some of the very worst defenders at their positions, while Duran is merely a little below average. Casas and Duran are young enough that we can hope for improvements, but Yoshida and Devers are what they are at this point: DHs forced to wear gloves.

But that’s a concern for another day. With the return of Trevor Story and the addition of Luis Urías, we suddenly got a little taste of what we’ve been missing all year: great infield defense. For now, I’m not going to worry about the fact that none of Rafael Devers’ defensive improvements seem to stick for more than month, that Jarren Duran’s speed somehow doesn’t translate into defensive brilliance, that Triston Casas appears to be just too damn big to get to the ground quickly enough on tricky grounders. Harping on those things now would be some late-summer whining, a failure to appreciate the good stuff that’s in front of us now. And we’ve got all winter for that.

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