Pittsburgh Pirates third base and baserunning coach Rick Sofield saw his catcher Francisco Cervelli running toward third and had to make a decision.
It was the fourth inning of Friday’s game, the Pirates were down 1-0 and Gregory Polanco had singled to right while Ryan Braun cleanly fielded the ball. Sofield thought for a second and both both hands up. Cervelli stayed at third. While anxious fans had been waiting 22 innings for a Pirate to cross home plate, Sofield did not think this was the right opportunity.
“You let that game come to you over there and everything added up to no for me,” Sofield said. “We’d like nothing more than to send everybody and to score as many runs as possible but as it matriculated and as that ball went, I just decided there that we could take a batter shot. We had Andrew [McCutchen] coming up and so it’s always nice to have him come up with a man on third base. It just was a gut feel that I thought wasn’t the right time to challenge.”
Ultimately Sofield made the right determination as Braun’s throw one-hopped into the waiting glove of catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Cervelli would have been out.
It was this decision and many others that allowed the Pirates offense to put up six runs and 11 hits as part of a 6-3 victory Friday night against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Sofield was further proven correct when the next batter Andrew McCutchen grounded out to the shortstop. It already was a productive at-bat in that it gave the Pirates its first run since Corey Hart’s seventh inning home run Monday, however Gregory Polanco’s hustle and attention to detail allowed him to advance from first base to third on a ball that never left the infield.
Two innings later, Polanco was at it again, hitting an opposite-field single and between Khris Davis’s bobble and speed of getting to the ball, Polanco hustled an extra 90 feet into scoring position.
“We talk a ton about base running scenarios and situations when and when not to go,” said Sofield. “There are times when the window opens and closes and we trust our players because they’re very good and have God given instincts. So when that thing breaks loose that’s a bunch of guys playing baseball the right way.”
With the offense coming in at a standstill, it was the team’s base running off the All-Star Lucroy that arguably turned the tide in the Pirates favor.
Sofield believes the steals got Lucroy out of rhythm and also forced more fastballs that batters were able to hit and drive in runs.
“It felt good to be free again. We haven’t been on base lately but we’re a very aggressive base running team and we talk about that Pirate pressure package about trying to put as much pressure on the opponent as we can,” Sofield said. “We have some good base stealers and some very good base runners. Tonight was a good opportunity with situational baseball tumbling our way that we had a chance to shine on the bases a little bit.”