How and Why Nick Madrigal Sneakily Stole Third Base to Set Up the Cubs Win
If Nick Madrigal doesn’t steal third base in the 10th inning last night, do the Cubs still win that game?
Well, at worst, you’d say it would still be 50/50, even if they didn’t score in that inning. There was always the 11th.
But I’ve been trying to imagine how things would play out if he’d stayed put, as a way of evaluating the decision to try to steal in the first place. Maybe Tucker Barnhart gets the bunt down, and it winds up exactly the same situation for Nico Hoerner anyway (one out, Madrigal on third). But Barnhart didn’t look great in his first attempt (against a pitcher who’s gotta be SO HARD to bunt off of), so maybe he winds up striking out. From there, Matt Brash assuredly pitches Nico Hoerner differently with a runner on second instead of third, and the defense is positioned very differently, too. I don’t think we can assume Hoerner still gets the bloop hit he got, or that it scores Madrigal.
In other words, I think the whole inning becomes a shoulder-shrugging who knows if we try to play the imagination game.
In other other words, Nick Madrigal stealing third base in the 10th inning last night was a critical part of the Cubs’ walk-off win.
… so why did he do it?
In general, stealing third base with nobody out in a tie game is a bit of a dodgy move. Yes, you absolutely would prefer to be on third base, but you’ve got an extra out to work with. You have to be careful. You have to be right.
But if you can get an enormous lead and a good read on the pitcher? Then for sure, do it. As Madrigal did.
What was interesting in how it played out is that Madrigal kinda got picked off – on first viewing, I thought Madrigal was just straight up going from the jump because he thought Brash was napping. Turns out, that wasn’t the case.
Before heading in as the automatic runner, Madrigal chatted with a few coaches and did some quick video studying on Brash’s delivery. When the reliever lifted his drive leg a certain way, Madrigal read the movement and took off for third.
“I knew immediately that he might be picking,” Madrigal said. “I was committed.”
The gamble paid off. Madrigal avoided freezing when Brash spun around, and reached third safely. Later in the inning, Hoerner came through with his hat-securing single.
Watch the play again, and you’ll see that it wasn’t that Brash was napping. It was that Madrigal thought he had a read on Brash’s delivery, which was only about half right – though Madrigal’s quick decision to just stay committed did seem to momentarily fool Brash:
If anything, the guy napping there was Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who had the tough task of trying to partially cover the bunt, partially cover the left side of the infield for the shift, and also get back in time to cover the base if the bunt/hit wasn’t at him. So you could argue he should’ve been more ready to get to the base anyway, at which point he would’ve been there to apply the tag from Brash’s throw.
Madrigal kinda stole that base more on Suarez than Brash, whose pick-off move did “work.” Brash’s only mistake was the momentary hesitation where he thought about completing his pick-off move to second base, even after Madrigal was clearly committed. That blip, plus Suarez not being ready, meant that Madrigal snuck in there. And the Cubs won the game.
It was one of those plays where, if it doesn’t work, you’re absolutely screaming angry about it. But, since it did work – hey, it was a good jump! – it looks like a genius move. The thing is, though, when you pull something surprising like that, sometimes you DO catch the other team at something less than fully prepared. So maybe it was a genius move all around!