The 2021 Oakland A’s finally won a game on Wednesday, and Ramon Laureano was a big reason why.
In big-picture terms, the center fielder accounted for one of the A’s four runs all by himself, and then contributed to the 10th-inning rally that won the game on a walk-off. But really what he did was put on a clinic in the value of taking an extra base whenever you can.
In the 4th inning, Oakland trailed 1-0 against reigning Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, and Laureano led off by getting hit by a pitch to reach base. He took that free gift and built on it by stealing second base. That put him into scoring position, but what happened next was the key.
With two outs, and lefty Seth Brown at the plate, the Dodgers employed a heavy defensive shift that left nobody holding Laureano on the bag at second. He was able to take a ridiculous running lead, and then trotted over to third so easily that Los Angeles didn’t even bother making a throw. They effectively handed Laureano a free base, but more importantly, he went out and took it. It was ruled a steal, but in spirit it was more of a defensive indifference.
The very next pitch showed why the extra 90 feet were so crucial. Bauer buried a cutter in the dirt and the catcher couldn’t corral it, allowing the ball to carom far enough away for Laureano to scamper home.
If he’d still been standing on second, then the wild pitch would only have sent him to third base. A few pitches later, Brown struck out to end the frame. Laureano would have been stranded, but he wasn’t because he hustled and took every single inch the opponent gave him.
You could just as easily credit Laureano’s first steal (of second base) for this run, and indeed it earned the same 90 feet toward the final goal. But the indifference base stands out to me even more, partly because of the extra heads-up-ness, and partly because of the sequencing. He’d been standing on second for a few minutes after his initial steal, but he grabbed third the exact moment before it mattered.
Later in the game, Laureano did it again, in an entirely different way.
In the 10th inning, he came up with runners on first and second and nobody out. He drilled a fly deep enough to center for the lead runner (Mark Canha) to move up to third base, similar to what a sac bunt would have achieved but without giving up his own chance at a hit.
Next up was Mitch Moreland, who delivered the walk-off single.
How does that walk-off play go if Canha is on second base instead of third? Of course it’s impossible to know for sure, but the outfielder might have been playing deeper. With Canha on third a sac fly would end the game, so there was no point being in regular position to catch a medium-deep fly — he may as well shift in to help take away any short bloops. Moreland’s liner went over his head, and even if he’d ranged back and caught it Canha would still have scored anyway.
But what if Canha is only on second, the outfielder is playing deeper, and he catches Moreland’s drive? Nobody scores, maybe Canha moves to third, but now there are two outs and the next batter needs a hit instead of just a sac fly. Moreland’s hit was Oakland’s first with runners in scoring position tonight, in their sixth try.
In this case it’s not so much that Ramon was a specific hero, other than not striking out or popping out or hitting into a double play. All he did was fly out. But he did it at a great time, and credit also to Canha for making sure to capitalize on the opportunity, just as Laureano had done in the 4th by taking every base available.
Why am I nitpicking these little details, when there are so many bigger things to celebrate about tonight’s long-awaited win? The pitching was good! Matt Chapman broke out at the plate and looked like himself in the field! Moreland nailed his role as RBI machine!
That stuff was all great, but slumps and recoveries are a natural part of an MLB season. I wasn’t worried about the stars, or at least not after six games. They’ll put up their numbers when all is said and done.
But what Laureano did tonight was winner stuff. Without his run in the 4th there are no extra innings, and without his flyout in the 10th maybe it goes to the 11th and something bad happens. He helped manufacture two runs in a one-run victory.
These are the little quiet plays that win you postseason games. Oakland always has plenty of impressive stat lines on their contending rosters, but so often they’re missing the little details that Laureano showed tonight. Aggressively taking the extra base. Making a productive out during a rally instead of whiffing.
The worst part of the six losses was how hopeless the team looked, not just getting beaten but also beating themselves. The best part of the first win was how they did everything a good team needs to do, down to the seemingly harmless 90 feet in the 4th inning that can change everything.