Sunday, October 17 2021
Aroldis Chapman Kyle Higashioka during Subway Series September 2021

Aroldis Chapman Kyle Higashioka during Subway Series September 2021

Remember Saturday night’s Subway Series game?

So much has happened since — whistlegate, Francisco Lindor’s three home runs, a thrilling Yankees comeback against Minnesota, a dull Mets loss to St. Louis — but my baseball mind is still partly stuck on a moment that transpired before all of that: Kyle Higashioka’s stunning, game-saving putout on Saturday night.

It’s not a stretch to say that the play kept the Yankees’ season alive. Can you even imagine if they had been swept in this particular Subway Series? Their entire world would feel different.

With one out and nobody on in the ninth inning on Saturday, the Yankees and beleaguered closer Aroldis Chapman clung to a one-run lead. J.D. Davis doubled.

Chapman followed with his strongest sequence of the night, striking out Kevin Pillar swinging with an 0-2 splitter in the dirt. But the ball skipped away from Higashioka, toward the first letters of the Mets insignia on the third-base side.

Pillar hesitated for a crucial moment as Higashioka looked toward the first-base dugout, spun his head around, located the ball and raced toward it. He scooped it off the grass, fired a strike to Anthony Rizzo at first and retired Pillar by a half-step.

The throw found an inside lane to the left of the runner, probably the only spot that would have reached Rizzo in time — or at all. In fact, had the throw been even a tad offline, it could easily have sailed into the outfield, allowing Davis to score the game-tying run.

Was this play as uncommonly perfect as it appeared? Was it a gutsy decision to throw the ball, when an error would have changed the entire game? Or was it an instinct play with no time to consider possible ramifications? I asked a few folks who know more than I do.

“That’s a difficult play. I’ve seen Jeff Mathis make one like that. Yadi [Molina] doesn’t have many balls squirt away from him in general, but I’m sure he’s capable of a play like that. So is, probably, [Martin] Maldonado, as long as he gets to it, because he throws 112 mph. But that was a pretty special play.

“You also have to read it right, like right off. He got him by half a step, so if he looks a few degrees off, then it kills the play. Probably a little bit of instinct and good fortune to be able to get there in time to make it. But athletically to get there, you have to be able to get there and you have to have a good enough arm.

“It was a big play. It was a big play.”

“That’s a difficult play. It’s one of those plays where I’m sure he just reacted — it’s not really something you can practice. You don’t go out there in spring training and tell the hitter, ‘Hey, pretend you’re swinging at a pitch in the dirt and start running.’ It’s all just something that happens.

“As you’re chasing the ball — in the moment, I’m sure he knew that Pillar didn’t take off immediately — but at the same time, your eyes aren’t seeing what he’s doing and where he is, how close he is to the bag. So [you rely on] that internal clock to decide, ‘Do I have time to get to this ball and throw?’ And he executed it perfectly.

“And if he throws that ball away, it’s a tie game and Pillar is on second base. It’s a lot harder play than you would think.”

Kyle Higashioka

“When I was running after it, my internal clock was telling me I probably had no chance to get him. But I didn’t realize that it took him a second to start running. When I got the ball, I think I realized that I did have a little bit of time, so I kind of chucked it down there and hoped for the best. Ha.

“If you have a chance to get him, you have to try, because it could change the game if that guy gets on first.”

Source: Yahoo Sports

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