Inside Job (Part 2)

I goofed! In last week’s look at the short inside-the-park home runs of 2006, I noted the “standard distance” of home runs rather than the “true distance.” According to Hit Tracker, the standard distance is corrected for wind, temperature, and altitude. So these are the actual distances for the short home runs I wrote about last week:

Date    Hitter           True Distance
May 26  V. Guerrero      295 feet
Aug 20  M. Grudzielanek  285 feet
Sep 04  N. Cruz          267 feet
Sep 24  G. Sizemore      288 feet
Sep 29  C. Figgins       255 feet
Oct 04  M. Kotsay        286 feet

True to my word, all the home runs travelled less than 300 feet. But not all inside-the-park home runs are dinky little shots. Let’s check out some of the longer inside-the-park home runs from last year.

April 20: Kaz Matsui (NYM) solo home run against San Diego

Distance: 389 feet (video)
Situation: Top third, none on, none out, Mets trail 1-0

Erstwhile Met Kaz Matsui stroked a line drive to right that Brian Giles couldn’t get back on quickly enough. He reached up in an attempt to make the grab and the ball appeared to deflect off of his glove. Giles crashed into the wall as the ball rolled toward center field. Matsui, running hard the whole time, was halfway between second third by the time centerfielder Ben Johnson tracked down and got rid of the ball. Relay man Josh Barfield made a quick catch and—although he doesn’t have quite a strong arm as his father —fired a 200-foot strike to catcher Mike Piazza. He couldn’t handle the throw, block the plate, and keep Matsui, who had slid feet first, from knocking him over. Tie game.

Good: Kaz Matsui’s first at-bat of 2004? Home run. Matsui’s first at-bat of 2005? Home run. First at-bat of 2006? You get the picture.

Bad: This was the last home run the legendary Little Godzilla hit for the Mets, leaving town at a deadline trade with an OPS barely cracking .500.

Worse: Jake Peavy pitched seven strong innings, left with a 2-1 lead, had the bullpen blow the game by allowing six runs, and he still has to appear on the bad end of another entry on this list.

May 6: Felipe Lopez (CIN)

Distance: 419 feet, the longest inside-the-park home run of the year (video)
Situation: Top of the first, none on, one out, tie game 0-0

Felipe Lopez took a full-count pitch and drilled it deep to center field. Center fielder Eric Byrnes moved back but couldn’t outrun the ball. In one of his moments of defensive clarity, Byrnes stopped short of the fence and prepared to play the carom. Unfortunately for him, the ball hit a bizarre crease in the outfield wall and bounced toward right field. As he approached the ball, Lopez rounded second and stole a peek at the developing play. Noticing Byrnes was not quite at the ball, Lopez continued running hard toward and beyond third base. Craig Counsell receieved the throw from the outfield, turned quickly, and fired a strong, accurate throw to the plate. Catcher Johnny Estrada, with one foot in the right-handed batter’s box, prepared to receive the throw. Lopez slid feet first around Estrada as the throw arrived on a single hop, but the catcher couldn’t handle the ball cleanly as Lopez touched the edge of his plate with his fingertips.

Good: Probably the closest play at the plate of all the round-trippers detailed here, just the way I like ‘em.

Bad: More like “bad-ass.” Lopez gave on-deck hitter Adam Dunn a fist bump as he walked toward the dugout; Dunn returned with a bump on Lopez’s head as if to say, “Now watch me hit a real home run. (Dunn then walked.)

Worse: As he was positioning himself to play the ball of the fence, Byrnes cheated a little bit toward his left. The ball went the opposite direction (because of the crease), leaving poor Byrnes looking like one of Tim Hardaway’s killer crossover victims.

June 11: Nick Swisher (OAK) solo home run against New York

Distance: 389 feet (video)
Situation: Top of the fourth, none on, two out, A’s trail 1-0

Nick Swisher hit a long opposite-field drive but Johnny Damon was on track to make a nice over-the-shoulder running grab. Unfortunately, Melky Cabrera also got a nice read on the ball and was ready to make a tremendous running stab to take a sure double away from Swisher. The outfielders quickly converged and Melky gave Damon a mouthful of leather. The ball deflected toward left field and Damon, using his messianic powers of self-healing, retrieved the ball quickly and threw to cutoff man Miguel Cairo, who made a quick relay to catcher Jorge Posada. The throw was accurate but a half-step too late to catch Swisher, who slid safely just under the tag.

Good: Cairo’s relay to Posada was as good a throw you’ll see that doesn’t nail the runner.

Bad: Swisher’s facial hair. Seriously dude, get a razor.

Worse: The television analyst made the bizarre observation that the ball was hit in “no man’s land” when there were clearly two men on that particular part of the field.

June 17: Dallas McPherson (LAAoA) two-run home run against San Diego

Distance: 341 feet (video)
Situation: Bottom of the sixth, one on, two out, tie 1-1

Peavy entered the sixth inning having already struck out six Angels, and it looked like he might make a 1-0 lead stand up. Then Garrett Anderson hit a game-tying homer, Juan Rivera was hit by a pitch, and Dallas MacPherson hit this opposite field drive into the left-field corner. Dave Roberts went back on the ball and into a slide on the warning track as the ball settled into his glove. The slide was prematurely interrupted by the outfield wall, the unpadded portion of which connected with Roberts’s knee; the ball was jarred loose and Roberts writhed in pain. Khalil Greene ran all the way from the infield to get the ball, but MacPherson scored standing up and slowing down. The Angels went on the win the game 3-2 and Peavy was stuck with the complete-game loss.

Good: The game was nationally televised, giving us all an opportunity to see Khalil’s dreamy hair. He’s the second-prettiest shortstop in the NL (after Jack Wilson).

Bad: In 384 major league plate appearances, MacPherson has a solid .200+ ISO…but a sub-.300 OBP.

Worse: Roberts hit the DL after his injury and didn’t play again until July 5.

July 23: Adrian Beltre (SEA) solo home run against Boston

Distance: 401 feet (video)
Situation: Bottom of the eighth, none on, two out, tie 7-7

Adrian Beltre blasted a Mike Timlin pitch to deep center field which resulted in a comedic scene. I was always told that if you do something with confidence, you will always look like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Well, Coco Crisp sure looked like he knew what he was doing, confidently tracking the ball to the warning track, looking up to locate the ball, and climbing the fence to attempt home run larceny. The ball hit the top of the fence maybe five feet to his left, leaving Coco confused. He briefly looked up afterwards; he must have lost the ball in the rare Seattle sun. Noted “left fielder” Manny Ramirez, who had come over to assist, booted the ball back to Crisp, who then picked it up and made a strong throw. The throw was too strong, however, missing two cutoff men, and misdelivered. Bewildered third baseman Mike Lowell received the ball after Beltre had rounded the bag; Lowell turned and fired too late to get Beltre, who slid home headfirst in a cloud of dust.

Good: The home run was worth +0.32 WPA points for the Mariners, giving them an 84.5% chance to win the game.

Bad: The untouchable J.J. Putz gave the lead back in the next frame, allowing a two-out, game-tying homer to Jason Varitek.

Worse: Richie Sexson broke the streak of dramatic two-out hits by hitting the game winner with nobody out in the bottom of the ninth. Serious baseball drama faux pas, Richie.

July 25: Casey Blake (CLE) two-run home run against Detroit

Distance: 401 feet (audio)
Situation: Bottom of the seventh, one on, two out, Indians lead 10-7

Casey Blake capped the scoring in this wild affair with a two-run homer off of Jason Grilli. He blasted an 0-1 pitch to dead center field that Curtis Granderson chased all the way to the wall. His efforts were in vain, however, as he narrowly missed making the catch as the ball hit the wall right above the 405 sign and ricocheted back toward the infield. Left fielder Craig Monroe was nowhere to be seen, leaving Granderson scrambling to retrieve the ball. Blake, hustling the entire time, touched the inside part of third base with his right foot and scored easily. He crossed the plate standing up just as the ball was arriving in the infield.

Good: The television analyst noted “I think that’s one of the most exciting plays in all of baseball.” Whoever you are, Sports Time Ohio broadcaster, you’re a man of my own heart.

Bad: An inside-the-park home run without a slide at the end is like kissing your sister.

Worse: Paul Byrd gave up seven runs in three innings and wasn’t even tagged with a loss (Although he did once give up six runs in one inning and avoided the loss, too). It’s an unjust world we live in, folks.

Sep 7: Jose Reyes (NYM) three-run home run against Los Angeles

Distance: 406 feet (video)
Situation: Bottom of the sixth, two on, two out, Mets lead 4-0

This was the second-longest inside-the-parker of the year, hit by the guy who could probably round the bases on a misplayed infield fly. Jose Reyes lofted a ball to deep center field that Matt Kemp couldn’t quite catch up to. Kemp hit the wall; so did the ball. It bounced back toward the infield as Kemp and fellow rookie Andre Ethier converged. Kemp and Ethier must have discussed in great detail who should have the pleasure of picking up the ball and throwing back to the infield. (“After you,” said the gracious Kemp. “I wouldn’t dream of it,” responded Ethier. “Apres vous.”) This strategy is well utilized for runners such as, say, Frank Thomas, but doesn’t work very well with Jose Reyes flying around the bases. Even though Reyes slowed as he rounded first, he kicked it into gear when he saw the ball bounce off the wall. Ethier eventually threw the ball back, but it was far too late to catch the speedy Reyes, who sent the crowd into a tizzy with a dramatic belly flop at home plate.

Good: Blazing fast? Check. Unecessary headfirst slide? Check. Big smile as you lay catching your breath? Check. Jose Reyes is a helluva fun player to watch. As reader Brian M. put it, the only people having more fun than Jose Reyes are the fans who watch him play.

Bad: Too bad there were two outs, otherwise we might have had the opportunity to see Reyes pass a couple of base runners.

Worse: “You’re far too generous,” replied Kemp. “Oh no, my dear, the pleasure is all mine,” offered Ethier…

Sep 27: Hanley Ramirez (FLA) solo home run against Cincinnati

Distance: 401 feet (video)
Situation: Bottom of the eighth, none on, none out, Marlins lead 6-2

Hanley Ramirez put an exclamation point on his Rookie of the Year campaign with a two-homer game, the second of which was this inside-the-park shot. Ramirez hit a long fly ball to the deep part of left-center field that bounced off the outfield wall and took a couple of big hops as it made its way into right-center field. An alert Norris Hopper ran over from right to retrieve the ball, but it was a lost cause by this point. Ramirez was running the entire way, and when he glanced over his shoulder as he rounded second base, the sight must have been encouraging. He turned on the afterburners and scored standing up.

Good: As a young shortstop with success at the major league level, Ramirez’s Baseball Reference top comparables (by age) include Jimmy Rollins, Derek Jeter, and historical greats Lou Boudreau, Joe Sewell, and Vern Stephens.

Bad: Chris Denorfia, the Reds center fielder who couldn’t make the play, really needed to make a good impression late in the year if he wanted consideration for the starting job in 2007.

Worse: Denorfia’s going to have to beat out the infamous Farney for the job.

That wraps it up for the inside-the-park-homers of 2006. We were treated to 14 of them last year, some of the game-breaking variety. I hope we see even more next year, because there’s nothing like confused outfielders, fast base runners, agressive third-base coaches, and plays at the plate all in the span of 15 seconds.

References & Resources
Many thanks, once again, to Greg Rybarcyk of Hit Tracker Online for his excellent website and for helping me complete the list of inside-the-park home runs.

Once again, you’ll need Windows Media Player to view the videos, which are streaming from MLB.tv.

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