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Stealing home was a risk that did not pay off for the Rays

After Manuel Margot got caught stealing home in the fourth, the Rays never came close to scoring again.
Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes places the tag on the Rays' Manuel Margot as Margot attempted to steal home during the fourth inning in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday.
Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes places the tag on the Rays' Manuel Margot as Margot attempted to steal home during the fourth inning in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 26, 2020

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Rays are certainly innovative when it comes to strategy, but they are not often impulsive.

They study, they vet, they analyze. They aren’t afraid of being aggressive, but they want to make sure they have the odds in their favor.

Which is a long-winded way of saying manager Kevin Cash was caught off-guard when leftfielder Manuel Margot was caught trying to steal home in the fourth inning of a 4-2 loss in Game 5 Sunday night. Cash did not criticize Margot but he didn’t exactly endorse the decision.

“We try to do things and make decisions that allow players to be athletic and be the athletes they are,” Cash said. “If Manny felt he had a read on it, for whatever reason, it’s tough for me to say yes or no just because he’s a talented baserunner. He might be seeing something that certainly I’m not or can’t appreciate in the moment right there. He’s trying to do something to pick his team up.”

It was a bold move, and it almost worked. Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw reacted quickly and calmly, stepping off the rubber and throwing to catcher Austin Barnes, who made the tag just as Margot reached the plate in a headfirst slide.

That run would have tied the score in the fourth inning, and perhaps given the Rays new life. Instead, they never got another runner to third base the rest of the game.

Manuel Margot (13) walks to the dugout after being called out while attempting to steal home during the fourth inning.
Manuel Margot (13) walks to the dugout after being called out while attempting to steal home during the fourth inning. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“It was definitely my decision to make the attempt,” Margot said, via interpreter Manny Navarro.

It may not have been what Cash wanted, but it wasn’t a completely reckless decision. With two out, a sacrifice fly was out of the question. And with left-handed hitter Kevin Kiermaier at the plate, the Dodgers were shifted to the right side of the infield so third baseman Justin Turner was not holding Margot close to the bag.

Finally, Kershaw has an exaggerated motion from the stretch, lifting his arms high above his head.

“From the first pitch to KK, I knew they weren’t paying too much attention to me so I thought I had a chance,” Margot said. “Obviously, it didn’t work out that way.”

It was Margot’s first pure attempt to steal home in a major-league game. He was credited with a steal of home against the Braves in 2019 but that was part of a double steal with Fernando Tatis Jr. Margot did not break for home until the Braves tried to throw out Tatis.

Margot had seen Kershaw often while he played in the National League West, but he said he had not considered stealing home before.

“I knew I had some room, but no, I’ve never tried it before. I was just trying to score a run but it didn’t turn out that way,” Margot said. “I thought I was really close. I couldn’t tell at the moment where he tagged me but (we) didn’t challenge it. I thought I was close but if we didn’t challenge it, that’s the call.”

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John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.