There it was again another one run lead in the top of the ninth for Reading last night. The Fightins appeared to be the verge of winning another one run game, 7-6. All closer Tyler Knigge needed was three outs and they would go to 16-1 in one-run games this season. He did manage to get three outs in the ninth and since May 11th they have won 10 of 12 games and 9 of the 10 wins have been by one run.
But it take some defensive magic. There was second baseman Carlos Alonso standing in shallow right field to start the ninth and only third baseman Anthony Phillips on the left side of the infield. The infield shift was on for New Hampshire Fisher Cats left handed hitting Ryan Schimpf. I can not recall seeing the shift used much before at the minor league level. But it worked this time and probably saved the game for Reading.
Schimp lead off the ninth by hitting a hard line drive right into the glove of Alonso in shallow right to take a base hit away from him. If Manager Dusty Wathan and his staff had not deployed the shift who knows what would had happened in the inning.
Later in the inning the Fisher Cats had two men on with base hits. It was likely at least the tying run would have scored without the shift. Knigge was able to end the game and pick up his third save stranding runners and first and third on a pop up to catcher Lars Davis.
Good defensive alignments are more and more prevalent in baseball at all levels today than ever before. The old saying is that pitching and good defense wins games. Reading has been play good defense because of it and getting good pitching particularly out of the bullpen.
The other reason they are winning close and late games is another old adage: “get ’em on. . . get ’em in”. In last night’s game the first two batters in the Reading lineup got on base in 9 of 10 at bats. Lead off hitter Albert Cartwright was on base all five times with three hits and two walks. The two hole hitter Carlos Alonso was on base 4 of 5 times with a base hit, a walk and two hit by pitches. They scored a combined four runs.
That meant one of the top hitters in the Eastern League Cameron Perkins had runners in scoring position every time he was up. Though he went 0 for 4 with a walk in the game, he grounded out three times and drove in a run each time for a very odd no hit, three rbi box score for him.
Of course any winning team usually needs the long ball and Aaron Altherr delivered it with a two-run homer in the fifth inning to give Reading the lead which they never relinquished thanks to the bullpen.
As they say when you watch a baseball game you see things you never saw before. In last night’s Reading game on MiLB-TV, I saw a team win for the 16th time in 17 one-run games this season. I saw the infield shift successfully deployed in a minor league game that made the difference in the outcome.
And, last night I saw Carlos Alonso be awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove for the best defensive second baseman in minor league baseball in 2013 when we saw him play in Clearwater. The presentation was made by Minor League President Pat O’Connor before the game. So it was very timely that Alonso was right in the middle of the defensive infield shift play that made the different in the game. It just doesn’t get any better than that!