Inside Job (Part 1)

While checking out Greg Rybarczyk’s awesome Hit Tracker website, I noticed that some of this year’s homers didn’t even travel 300 feet from home plate. It took me a minute to realize that these were inside-the-park home runs. I’ve heard that triples are the most exciting play in baseball, but people only say that because inside-the-park inside the park home runs are too rare to garner consideration. I love the inside-the-park home run, combining elements of defensive butchery, good (or bad) baserunning, plays at the plate, and stadia full of people not believing what the hell is happening. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to look back at the inside-the-park home runs of 2006; this week I’ll look at the inside-the-park home runs on hits that didn’t go very far and next week I’ll take a look at some of the longer ones.

May 26: Vladimir Guerrero (LAAoA) 2R HR Against Baltimore

Distance: 299 feet (video)
Situation: One on, bottom 8th, one out, tie game 2-2.

Orioles reliever Todd Williams came in to keep the game tied. But with Orlando Cabrera on first, Vladimir Guerrero hammered a sinking liner that Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons, ranging toward the line, couldn’t catch up to.

Gibbons took a tumble trying to cut the ball off and had trouble getting up. He eventually got on his feet and tracked down the ball, his hat amusingly flying off as he raced to the wall. He then unleashed an awful rainbow throw back to the infield that bounced at least 30 feet away from the first base bag. First baseman Kevin Millar rushed to the ball and got it to home, but the throw was late and toward third base. Vlad slid home safely to finish the deed.

Drama: High. Facing Vlad late in a tie game, I’m sure Williams was just trying to keep him from leaving the park. He kind of succeeded, but giving the Angels a late lead was deadly last year. Frankie Rodriguez came in to slam the door and the Angels won the game.

Surprise: Moderate. Vlad can do a lot of things on the baseball field.

Style: High. You’re not a baseball fan if you don’t like watching Vlad run. He’s got a good speed for somebody runs like a wounded horse. He finished it off this home run with an awkward slide, then lay on his back for a second to catch his breath. A big bright smile broke across his face and he jogged back to the dugout. Awesome.

Aug. 20: Mark Grudzielanek (KCR) 2R HR Against Oakland

Distance: 276 feet (video)
Situation: One on, bottom 9th, two out, Royals down 6-2.

With Oakland’s Justin Duchscherer one strike away from ending the game, Mark Grudzielanek reached out to slap the ball a few feet fair down the right field line. Right fielder Milton Bradley broke straight toward the line and made a half-hearted stab at the ball. The ball followed the wall to dead right field. Bradley nonchalantly jogged after it, drawing criticism from the KC radio announcers and allowing Grudzielanek to score standing up.

Drama: Moderately high. Down to their last strike, Grudz kept the game alive for KC to at least attempt a comeback. With a not-terrible Mark Teahen-Emil Brown-Reggie Sanders-Ryan Shealy heart of the order coming up and Oakland closer Huston Street unavailable, the Royals had a (small) shot. Plus, Grudzielanek versus Duchscherer is a dream matchup (if you like Scrabble).

Surprise: Moderate. Grudz has decent speed and Bradley, while generally a fine defender, has occasional lapses in concentration.

Style: Low. Grudz didn’t even slide. Lame.

Sept. 4: Nelson Cruz (TEX) Solo Homer Against Oakland

Distance: 248 feet (video)
Situation: None on, top 2nd, one out, Texas up 2-0

Nelson Cruz went 3-4 in this game with two home runs, the first of which was an inside-the-park cheapie. Oakland’s Barry Zito threw a 1-2 breaking ball that got in on Cruz’s hands; the bat broke but Cruz still managed to pull the ball into left field. Oakland left fielder Jay Payton broke the wrong way and had to attempt a sliding catch. Naturally, the ball bounced past him and went all the way to the wall; by the time center fielder Mark Kotsay retrieved the ball and got it to the cutoff man, Cruz had already scored.

Drama: Moderate. Texas battered Zito for the rest of the day. Still, Zito was coming off a near no-no against Texas a week prior and Cruz came up through the Oakland farm system before being traded for Keith Ginter (!!!). There was a revenge backstory in this home run.

Surprise: High. Cruz isn’t exactly a speedburner and Jay Payton has a good defensive reputation.

Style: Moderate. Despite no play at the plate, Cruz put a flourish on the play with a head-first slide.

Sept. 24: Grady Sizemore (CLE) 2R HR Against Texas

Distance: 285 feet, two feet longer than the shortest “real” home run of the year, a Brandon Inge thee-run “shot” (video)
Situation: One on, top 6th, two out, Cleveland up 9-5

Grady Sizemore showed why he is one of the most exciting players to watch by hitting two home runs in this game: the first an upper-deck shot into the Arlington jet stream and the second a hustle inside-the-park job. On a 2-1 pitch from C.J. Wilson, Sizemore popped a pitch into left. Temporary Ranger Carlos Lee showed off his defensive chops by completely butchering the play. He ran rather slowly toward the ball (maybe that’s his top speed; I don’t know) and when it became apparent that he would fall short of making a running grab, he made a half-lunge/half-slide attempt. The ball dropped fair by less than a foot and bounced behind Lee. Lee made a nice effort to retrieve the ball and make the throw to the cutoff man, who made a strong relay home. Sizemore slid home safely, beating the throw by a few steps.

Drama: Moderate. Sizemore’s homer put the game out of reach, although with Cleveland’s bullpen in the Ballpark in Arlington, who knew what would happen next?

Surprise: Low. Grady Sizemore versus Carlos Lee? It was bound to happen.

Style: High. Sizemore was running so fast that when he touched the bag at third it’s a miracle he didn’t fall down. He came home with a nifty late slide, touching the plate with his left hand in a cloud of dust, and giving teammate Joe Inglett an emphatic high-five.

Sept. 29: Chone Figgins (LAAoA) Solo Homer Against Oakland

Distance: 249 feet (video)
Situation: None on, bottom 8th, none out, Angels up 5-0

This homer was one of Chone Figgins‘ nine home runs last year. Figgins pulled the ball to right against Kiko Calero. Hiram Bocachica, filling in for a resting Milton Bradley, was cheating toward center and had to make a long run to get to the ball. He went into an ill-advised slide to keep the ball from going to the wall but got tangled in his own ankles. As the ball skittered along the wall, Bocachica ran to retrieve it and comically slipped and fell on his butt. Figgins slid into home plate as cutoff man Mark Ellis threw the ball home.

Drama: Low. This game was a blowout and Oakland had already clinched the division (good thing, too—the A’s lost three of four in this series).

Surprise: Moderately low. Figgins is fast and Hiram Bocachica is no Ichiro in right.

Style: Moderate. Chone Figgins is fun to watch when he goes full speed, but a well-placed cartwheel would have helped.

Oct. 4: Mark Kotsay (OAK) 2R HR Against Minnesota

Distance: 283 feet (video)
Situation: One on, top 7th, 2 out, tie game 2-2

In Game 2 of the ALDS, the Twins and A’s were locked in a tie going into the seventh. With the untouchable lefthhander Dennys Reyes (.424 OPS allowed to lefties) facing the struggling Mark Kotsay, it looked like the inning was as good as over. Instead, Kotsay stroked a sinking line drive into center. Gold Glover Torii Hunter laid out for one of his breath-taking diving catches … except the ball rudely missed his glove. It scooted on the turf straight for the wall and hit the baggie.

Hunter could only watch helplessly as Michael Cuddyer raced to the ball; Cuddyer made a nice throw to the cutoff man who quickly relayed the ball to catcher/temple-hair expert Joe Mauer. There could have been a play at the plate, but the throw was to the first base side and Kotsay scored.

Surprise: Very high. Gold Glove fielder, pitcher who is death on lefties, batter who struggles against lefties: nobody saw it coming.

Style: Low. Kotsay started his slide at the edge of dirt cutout, flew through the air, touched the plate, and immediately popped up with a high-five that almost knocked down Jason Kendall, who had scored ahead of him. To his credit, Kendall was pounding the ground, encouraging Kotsay to slide. Unfortunately, Kotsay’s style was severely cramped when his shirt came untucked, which really killed the moment.

Drama: Very high. Besides the surprise factor, the home run broke a late-game tie in a playoff game. It more or less sealed Game 2 of the ALDS in favor of the A’s.

Those were the cheapies. Next week we’ll take a look at some inside-the-park home runs that went farther than 300 feet, including a gargantuan 400-plus foot blast that never left the park.

References & Resources
Be sure to check out Hit Tracker Online, which details the true and adjusted length of every home run from 2005 and 2006. The distances listed here are the “standard distances” as measured by Hit Tracker.

You’ll need Windows Media Player to view the videos (at least I did), which are streaming directly from MLB.tv.

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