In the ninth inning, with a one-run lead against the Yankees, the Rays brought in a left-hander, Jonny Venters, to face Greg Bird. So far, this is a normal baseball story. Except they didn’t want to take right-hander Sergio Romo out of the game, so they put him at third base.
Thus endeth the normal baseball story.
You might remember the headline “The Rays played a pitcher at first base,” which was a very accurate headline. That was fun and worthwhile, but upon closer inspection, if there’s going to be a position that best suits a pitcher, first base might be it. They’re trained to cover first and catch baseballs all spring, so it isn’t that much of a paradigm shift to jog to a closer base and accept a much harder throw. That isn’t to say that all pitchers can play first, but that it’s a spot where they’re the least likely to be embarrassed.
Third base, though? Mercy.
That’s where Romo was setting up against Bird. Close enough to guard against the bunt. Also close enough to get murdered on anything hit to the opposite field. How much of a problem was that with Bird?
Not a problem in the slightest. But there was one wrinkle, though, and that’s that Bird had bunted against the shift for a single in the second inning of this very game. How tempting was it for him to test the pitcher who was out of position? HOW TEMPTING WAS IT?
Not tempting enough. After two quick strikes, Bird took a couple of balls and then grounded out to first. Romo’s day — career? — at third base was over, and he came back in to pitch.
Two batters later, the Yankees got the go-ahead run on first base because Matt Duffy, a real third baseman, made an error, and I hate-love this stupid sport so much.
With two on and one out, Romo got a pop-up and a strikeout to complete an extremely rugged save. And because of the chicanery, the box score will turn your brain into mashed Nilla wafers:
Send that, and only that, to some baseball-loving friends and family, and see if they can explain it without unplugging themselves and plugging themselves back in. Sergio Romo played third base in a one-run game, and then he came in to save the game that he also deserved a hold for.
I don’t know when the next postseason appearance for the Rays will be, but I’m very happy they exist right now.