Revisiting the Triple That Turned the World Series Upside Down

Could it have played out differently for Nelson Cruz and the Rangers?

Content Warning: Rangers playoff miscue

With the postseason in full swing (pun fully intended), I thought it would be a good idea to look at some notable playoff moments over the past decade or so and see if there was any way those moments could have gone differently.


Moment #1: The Freese Triple (2011)


“Into right, well hit. Back at the waalllll… it’s off the wall! One run scores! Here comes Berkman! Freese has tied it. 7-7.”

Here’s the clip if you want to follow along:

Down to their final out in Game 6 of the World Series, the Cardinals had runners on and were down two runs. The Rangers were just a few pitches away from their first World Series title, just a year after falling to the San Francisco Giants and their even-year voodoo.

Above is the play by play from Joe Buck, detailing the moment that changed the Rangers’ fortune. The ball was hit over Nelson Cruz’s head and hit the base of the wall as Cruz leaped to catch it and end the World Series drought. Now having seen this play for the one-millionth time (seriously, it’s on every baseball highlight reel ever), I’m convinced Nelson Cruz could have played that ball a couple other ways that would have kept the Rangers in the lead or with the Commissioner’s trophy in hand.


1. Cruz could have played further back

Tom Verducci, in an article for Sports Illustrated, illustrates this well:

“I saw Cruz early in the ninth inning playing too far in and said aloud, “He’s not back far enough. A ball can get over his head… The ball was hit directly toward him. He reacted poorly initially, tried to recover, and drifted slowly… It was catchable.”

He was playing too far in, especially because David Freese at this point had absolutely caught fire in the postseason. He had savaged the Brewers’ pitching in the NLCS, posting a .545/.600/1.091 (that’s a 1.091 SLG for you) across 22 at-bats. He continued to play well into the World Series, too. Going into Game 6, Freese was hitting .393/.443/.732 throughout the entire postseason. Manager Ron Washington should have told Cruz he was playing too far in, especially because CF Josh Hamilton and LF David Murphy were playing at the appropriate distances (according to Verducci).

The other issue is that he had been playing in for almost the entire ninth inning. While not a problem initially, Washington and Rangers coach Gary Pettis should have recognized at least at some point that Cruz was too far in. Even Cruz thought he was too far in, saying that if there was anything he could do over again about the play, he would have positioned himself deeper.

Without question, Cruz was positioned poorly for this play.


2. Cruz could have stopped short of the wall

After the ball got over his head, Cruz made a leaping effort to catch up to it on the warning track. The leap almost certainly put him in a far worse position than if he had waited for the ball to bounce off the wall. Because he leaps and badly misses the ball when attempting to catch it, Cruz puts himself at a severe disadvantage, because the ball caroms off the base of the wall and rolls back towards the infield. Cruz, having leapt towards the wall, is now further away from it than before. Watching this event on the broadcast, Cruz’s leap puts him 5 full seconds away from even throwing the ball to the cutoff in the infield.

The runners on the basepaths were not speedy at all. Albert “Top 5 Slowest Runners in the Statcast Era” Pujols stood on second base and Lance Berkman stood on first. I am almost certain that if Cruz stops short of the wall, recognizing that he read the play wrong originally and cutting his losses, he would have relayed the ball back into the infield far quicker. Pujols would probably still score, but Berkman likely is stopped at third, even though both are running as hard as they can with two outs. Even if the third base coach sends Berkman, the relay throw would certainly make this a bang-bang play at the plate, with a chance for the Rangers to still win the game on that throw.

Cruz should have recognized that he wasn’t going to catch the ball (upon replay, that was an embarrassing attempt at catching a ball he clearly wasn’t going to reach) and pulled up on the warning track to field the ball off of the wall.

The other common argument about this play is “why didn’t Ron Washington sub in Endy Chávez?” Chavez was worth 0.0 dWAR, so he wasn’t exactly an ace defender. However, Cruz was worth -1.0 dWAR that season, so Chavez would have been an improvement in right field. Unfortunately, Chavez had already pinch hit for Mike Adams in the top of the 9th inning. Adams wasn’t going to pitch the bottom of the 9th, so it made sense to try to put in Chavez to drive David Murphy in from first base. With Chavez unavailable, the only other available fielder off the bench was the little-used Esteban Germán, who had played just 11 games that season (German was also worth 0.0 dWAR in those 11 games, for what it’s worth). German had not played a single game in the outfield in his time with the Rangers, either.

The issue with this argument (“Why didn’t Washington replace Nelson Cruz with anyone else?”) is that there really was little reason to do so. Cruz hadn’t been a problem thus far in right field. He hadn’t made any errors in the postseason, converted nearly every chance he was given to make a putout (even adding an outfield assist in the ALCS Game 4) during the 2011 postseason. The Rangers were up by two runs and needed just one more out with their solid closer on the mound.

Cruz absolutely could have been moved back or could have played the ball off the wall. The Rangers could have won the game had he played that ball better. The Rangers also had another two-run lead following Cruz’s mishap in the outfield. Josh Hamilton put the Rangers up two in the 10th inning with a home run and the bullpen still couldn’t hold that down. So, while I agree that Cruz’s mishap was egregious and unacceptable, it is absurd to claim that Cruz cost them the World Series. The Rangers not only relinquished multiple leads over the course of Game 6 but also lost the following Game 7, ending their season with a whimper as opposed to confetti and excitement.


Photo by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Adam Sloate

Die-hard Angels fan since birth; misses the good ol' days of Vladdy, Kendrys, and Weaver. Temple University alumnus, UCLA Law student.

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