Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Some of my least favorite Rockies memories involve the endings of my absolute favorite Rockies memories. Two images I associate with those endings? Jonathan Papelbon closing out the men in purple to end games (as a member of the Red Sox at the time) and the Philadelphia Phillies shaking hands.
To see Papelbon taking the mound to try and close out last night’s 5-4 Phillies’ victory was unpleasant.
Then DJ LeMahieu gave us hope when he punched a single up the middle. Then he appeared to get a huge jump to try and steal second, only to hesitate and shut it down. A few pitches later, with Charlie Culberson at the plate as a pinch hitter, LeMahieu got picked off when he tried to get another big jump to steal second.
I shouldn’t assume that I speak for other Rockies’ fans, so I will just present a one line summary of my reaction: another freaking Rockie got picked off in the late innings of a close game.
"I just guessed wrong. I was just trying to be aggressive…”"
Baserunning errors are all too familiar to Rockies fans, dating back to Brad Hawpe getting caught in a rundown between third and home in San Diego during the famous Rocktober winning streak. Of course many of these errors predate the Walt Weiss era, and those made this season have been considered in a different context because the players are following their directive to be aggressive.
As such, Renck sums out what has been a common reaction to Rockies’ baserunning blunders this season from those who cover the team:
"But Weiss has preached to his players to be aggressive. He doesn’t want them to play scared or passive. As a result, they will make some head-scratching mistakes. But you can’t ask a team to push the envelope on bases, then rip them when it doesn’t work out."
It is at this point that I abstain from having an opinion on this topic. Earlier in the season I called it stupid when Dexter Fowler got caught stealing third with Troy Tulowitzki on deck. My thinking was, the philosophy to be “aggressive” ought to allow for situations where players know the risk might not be worth it. That it ought to be possible to point out a mistake and not undercut your “be aggressive” message. According to those who cover the team day-to-day, that is not the case. It appears that you simply cannot ask players to be aggressive and then complain when they make outs. Like, ever.
That tweet about Fowler, back in May, got reactions from two men who cover the Rockies professionally: the reasonable Thomas Harding and then, out of nowhere, Tracy “trollin’ ain’t easy” Ringolsby, who piled on when Fowler scored later in the game from first base (a situation he found comparable).
That reminds me of one of my favorite analogies about Twitter, which came from ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt. When somebody jumps an exchange like this it’s kind of like a guy who you didn’t invite to a party showing up anyway, then interrupting you and yelling about why you’re wrong. Of course I’m guilty of it too (on social media, that is), so it’s more a Twitter observation than a Ringolsby observation.
Anyhow, I still thought it was stupid, for the record, but I was scared to say so because if you haven’t noticed, Ringolsby crushes dudes on Twitter. He is right most of the time; he’s a Hall of Fame baseball writer for a reason, after all. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the way he goes about it. Harding and the aforementioned Troy Renck do a nice job of engaging Rockies fans without belittling their opinions, and if nothing else, that warrants a tip of the cap here. But I digress…
Harding’s point and, I presume where the Hall of Famer Ringolsby would have taken the conversation had I not shied away from it, was that managers can lose their players if they get angry about a mistake that was made in an attempt to follow their philosophy. At the time I wondered if that means there is no baserunning mistake which Weiss would be allowed to criticize if the player simply explained it by saying he was “trying to be aggressive.”
Like what if Fowler just decided to go “last batter in T Ball” style and refuse to stop running on what would otherwise be a single? He’s just trying to be aggressive, and if you want aggressive, well, that’s aggressive as hell.
But in the end those guys have access to the team and I don’t. They might point out that I wouldn’t know and they would because they talk to players and coaches, and they would be right in that regard. I do not know the mindset of players or what makes them respect their coaches. So last night LeMahieu made a costly baserunning mistake in the 9th inning of a one run game, and Weiss not only backed him, but he took responsibility for the mistake. And yes, whether you like what happened or not, that’s pretty awesome on his part.
So that’s what happened last night, and that’s why I am not bashing LeMahieu here in this article. In fact, in the end, I am here to tell you a story about a day on Twitter that seriously stressed me out (I hate confrontation) and to express my undying support for the Rockies’ philosophy to be aggressive.