Oakland A’s fans already know about Ramon Laureano’s throwing arm. We saw it when he became the first player in A’s franchise history to notch an outfield assist in both of his first two major league games. We saw it when he unloaded possibly the most incredible throw we’ve ever seen, good enough to top the MLB Network list of the best plays of 2018. He has an absolute Death Star superlaser in center field, and if he ever spiked the ball directly into the ground then I fear the Earth might explode like Alderaan.
Apparently the rest of the league still hasn’t heard the news, though. After all, Laureano didn’t debut until last August, and there were several teams who didn’t get to see him in 2018. One of those clubs was the Red Sox, but I think they know about him now.
The Sox have been in town for the last two games, and they’re yet to tally a single run through 18 innings. One huge reason why is that Laureano keeps throwing out Xander Bogaerts whenever he gets close to scoring.
In Monday’s opener, Bogaerts lined a hit in his first at-bat, and with the ball scooting toward the gap in right-center he hustled toward second base to stretch it into a double. However, Laureano made a nifty sliding stop, popped up, and got the ball in quickly despite his momentum falling the other way. The throw actually beat Bogaerts to the bag, but since it was a bit of a sidearmy rush-job it short-hopped its destination and Marcus Semien wasn’t able to corral it. Bogaerts was safe this time, but it was closer than it should have been and it served as foreshadowing, if only he’d taken the warning.
The very next batter sent another hit up the middle, and Bogaerts tested Laureano again, this time trying to score from second on the single. Bad idea.
The play went to replay review and the out call was upheld. It’s possible that Bogaerts was actually safe, and indeed after the game Laureano himself wasn’t so sure: “I thought he was safe, but I didn’t see the replay.” My best guess is that Bogaerts’ front foot may have been up off the ground and gone over the plate instead of touching it. Either way, the fact that this was a play at all is amazing.
Laureano’s throw clocked 96 mph, and it was so precise that it may have actually gone through the zone for a literal strike. At the time the A’s had an early 1-0 lead, so this prevented Boston from tying it up. “That throw is huge right there,” said Melvin after the game. “It’s a run, all of a sudden it’s a tie game, and now it’s not.”
Of course, anytime an outfielder bypasses the cutoff man, the manager will get a bit nervous. “You overthrow the cutoff man, and the trail runner can move up to second. It’s like a three-point shot: No, no, no, yeah! And he’s done that before, so we should know to never count out his arm on a particular play. When it was hit, I didn’t think he had a chance.”
To his credit, though, Laureano actually factored that risk into his decision-making. “I know (Mitch) Moreland doesn’t run that good, so I knew I just had to throw it straight home because I knew he wasn’t running to second base.” Indeed, Moreland didn’t take the extra base.
The A’s ended up winning the game 7-0, so this play probably didn’t swing the final result. But it was a great piece of momentum in the early going, and it’ll be one of the highlights we keep going back to watch all year.
The next night, the teams played a much closer contest. Matt Chapman’s 1st-inning homer held up all the way to the 9th, and Boston entered their final ups with good news and bad news: The deficit was only 1-0, but they now had to face the best closer in the majors in Blake Treinen.
Bogaerts was the second batter of the inning, coming up with none one and one out. He nearly played the role of hero, as he drilled one deep to center that had enough juice to leave the yard. If it had gone just a couple feet to the left then it would have cleared the fence and tied the game, but instead it bounced off the tall jagged edge and stayed in play. (Better not hear any complaining from Red Sox fans about the effects of a tall outfield wall.)
Still, though, it would be extra bases for Bogaerts, putting him in scoring position with only one out and Oakland-masher Moreland due up. Except ... wait no Xander what are you doing are you seriously running on Laureano again?? Robbed of his potential homer, Bogaerts turned on the jets and tried to stretch his double into a triple. Bad idea.
There are a couple ways this could have gone better for Bogaerts. He hesitated a bit as he rounded second, which may have cost him. The ball also didn’t roll as far as it could have after Laureano misplayed the carom off the wall, allowing him to chase it down relatively quickly. And even despite all that, Bogaerts actually beat the throw this time, but Platinum Glover Matt Chapman was there to help by blocking him off the bag. Replay review once again upheld the call.
Having now been twice bitten, Bogaerts seems to have finally learned his lesson.
Xander Bogaerts on Laureano: "I'm like, there's no way he'll do that again. ... The next time I won't run."— Ben Ross (@BenRossSports) April 3, 2019
Of course, a quick look at Baseball-Reference could have saved him some trouble. Laureano has only played 55 major league games in his career so far, and that was already his 11th outfield assist. Last year the MLB leaders had 12 over the full season, with none of them getting there in fewer than 138 games. The year before, the leader had 15 assists in 147 starts, and the most in the last decade was 2011 Alex Gordon with 20 in 147 starts (also 2013 Juan Lagares with 15 in 97 starts). Noodles is on a faster pace than all of them.
Bogaerts and the Red Sox know about Laureano now. It shouldn’t be long before the rest of the league does, too. And if they keep testing him, then he’ll just have to commence primary ignition again and blow up another planet.