The Rays' much-improved defense (from one of the worst in the American League to one of the best) has been a focus of their early success, and manager Joe Maddon pointed out that many of the team's double plays (47 through Sunday, third in the AL) have come at critical moments, ending innings and potentially saving games. Bartlett and Iwamura have become so in synch, Maddon has joked they're like "soulmates."
But chemistry only goes so far in creating the perfect pivot. It's very much a "feel play," based on quick thinking, quick throws and quick feet — that is, if baserunners don't crash the party with their cleats.
Know your runner
Although Bartlett said there's no extensive scouting done on baserunners' behavior, it's important to realize who's on first before turning two. If it's a fast (think Ichiro Suzuki) or aggressive (think Carlos Lee) runner, you know the throw will have to be quick.
Expect a bad throw
The initial throw to second dictates how you pivot. Always expect a bad toss and move to the ball. "Some young kids, they'll already come across the bag expecting a perfect feed and it's not," Bartlett said. "The next thing you know, the ball is in leftfield."
There are ways to avoid contact, such as a crow-hop; second basemen can sometimes safely throw from behind the bag. But if a hit is inevitable, Foley said, you must be "light on your feet," falling forward onto the runner while keeping your ligaments intact. For second basemen, who in most cases don't see (but feel) the contact coming, Maddon compares it to a quarterback focusing on the target (and throw) instead of the pass rush.
The countermove: Getting offensive
Bartlett said infielders can defend themselves, and he has a scar on his face to prove it. Last year, in trying to break up a double play, Bartlett was "taken out" when an infielder came through with his knee when throwing. It's not a dirty play, Foley says, just defensive. Bartlett prefers a trick where he throws with his arm low, which forces a baserunner to slide early, or as Foley said, "you're gonna be eating the ball."
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Tom Foley will never forget his first time "turning two" as a second baseman: The double play drew blood.
Foley, the Rays' infield coach, played 13 seasons in the big leagues, primarily at shortstop. But during a short switch to second in an instructional-league game, he made the mistake of not leaving his feet — a baserunner soon barreled in, completing that feat for him.
"The guy cleaned my clock," Foley said. "I went down, my glasses cut my nose. But you know what? I got off my feet every time after that."
The pivot man in a double play is likely one of the most unenviable positions in baseball. Middle infielders, especially second basemen, blend bravado with fleet footwork, timing their tag of the base, twisting to make a throw while knowing a baserunner has the right and opportunity to knock them down with his slide.
Many, like Foley, learned the hard way. But Foley has helped teach Akinori Iwamura the tricks of the trade as the converted third baseman took over second this season. With new double-play partner shortstop Jason Bartlett, the two have made a seemingly seamless transition.