Yesterday, I presented Yadier Molina a question I had been waiting to ask for months. This is going to be about Game 5. If you are not ready to enter that space, I can’t blame you. Go ahead and skip this one. But Molina provided insight into one of the more baffling and overlooked plays of the game that changed Nationals’ history.
So, the question: Why, with two outs and a full count in the ninth inning, did Molina start running from first base toward second base as Drew Storen still gripped the ball on the rubber?
“I don’t know,” Molina said. “At that moment, you don’t think. You just try to take advantage of that situation. I was looking at him, and he wasn’t paying attention to me. I was ready to go. I was glad he didn’t see me. Because if he stepped off, the game is going to be over there.”
If he stepped off, the game is going to be over. So much was happening in that ninth inning that even huge, tectonic moments blurred together or became altogether obscured. Molina’s running start is one of them. So, let’s reset.
With two outs and Carlos Beltran on third, Molina fought out of a two-strike hole and drew a walk. Storen moved to a 3-2 count on David Freese. The Nationals still led, 7-5, and so Molina was the tying run. (I know, this hurts.)
And then Molina did the strangest thing: He just started running. Storen was on the mound and never stepped off, perhaps never alerted by a teammate. It’s important to make this distinction: Molina was not running with the pitch, the standard operating procedure. He just clean took off before the pitch.
“I got a 3-2 count,” Molina said. “Most of the time when the pitcher has got a 3-2 count, they don’t pay attention to the runner, especially with that lead he got. So, I gambled. I was like, ‘Go.’”
Storen did not step off. The game was not over. Freese took ball four. And Molina had already reached second base.
It was, undeniably, not a good play from Molina. With the count full, he could not steal the base. For the reward of an extra head start, he risked ending the game. Had Storen simply stepped off the mound, spun and thrown to second, the Nationals would have won the series, and Molina would have perpetrated one of the largest baserunning gaffes in baseball history.
But that was only if Storen had stepped off.
“The game’s over,” Molina said Monday, with a shrug and a slight smile. “In this game, you can’t be afraid.”