Photo courtesy of AP.

Rob Dibble doesn't know it. Ray Knight either. And certainly Pat Listach doesn't have the first idea, since he made the same ridiculous mistake, TWICE, in a 5-4 loss to the Houston Astros.

Two times in last night's one-run game, third base coach Pat Listach sent a runner home with only one out on a base hit to center field. In the fourth inning, Nick Johnson, who still runs with a noticeable limp as a result of his horrific collision in 2006, was thrown out by center fielder Michael Bourn trying to score on a single by Adam Dunn.

In the top of the ninth, game tied at four, Willie Harris led off with a single and took second on a sacrifice by Anderson Hernandez. Nyjer Morgan then delivered a line drive up the middle that Harris had to freeze on for fear of the pitcher -- or shortstop -- snaring it. Once clear of fielders, Harris took off.

Inexplicably, Listach waived Harris home although the ball was just in short center and Bourn had already reached the ball. Bourn then delivered a throw that was up the third baseline a bit, but catcher Pudge Rodriguez had plenty of time to make the catch and slide back over to the plate to tag out Harris, who was trying to contort his way around the tag instead of sliding.

The play was lauded by booth announcers Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble, and later on the post-game show by analyst Ray Knight. And I hate to continue harping on these guys, but I guess I have to until they get it right.

Both plays of "aggression" were just plain stupid. There was absolutely NO REASON to send either Johnson or Harris with just one out. This team is plenty bad on it's own to have the third base coach making mistakes as well, getting runners thrown out at home.

Manager Manny Acta defended his coach after the game, as he should have. Hanging Listach out to dry in the media would have been a spectacularly bad thing to do, especially coming into the all-star break. But Acta's words here shouldn't confuse baseball fans about the original plays.

"You have to be aggressive. If the throw would have been one foot to either side we wouldn't even be discussing this, and I never second-guess my third base coach because we have scored over 300-something runs, and on every one of them he has waved the runner home. So I'm not going to second-guess him when one guy gets thrown out."

True enough Manny, had the throw been worse, Harris might have scored. But you cannot count on major league players to make a bad play in order to try to force in a run, which is what Listach did...TWICE.

It's normal for players to try to be more aggressive to get out of a slump. It's the only way they know how. If you're failing, try harder. It's the complete opposite as a coach. You're supposed to be the voice of reason and restraint, reigning players in to do their jobs, not to do too much.

Put it this way: If Listach puts up the stop sign on either play, and either runner ran through the stop sign and were out, it would have been a terrible case of the player trying to do too much, right? In these cases, it was the coach that was trying to do too much.

It was the wrong call. Twice.
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I have two more comments about last night's game.

First, Nick Johnson is broken. It is plainly obvious that he is afraid to go backwards to chase pop-ups. I suppose I would be too after what happened to him. The fielders around him are going to have to be more assertive in helping Johnson play those types of balls.

Hernandez clearly should have called Johnson off on the pop foul that went untouched, giving Geoff Blum new life, then doubling to put runners in scoring position and allowing Jeff Keppinger to hit a sac fly to plate Rodriguez with the tying run.

Second, I still don't understand the double-switch in the ninth inning. Acta brought in Austin Kearns and Mike MacDougal at the same time, moving Willingham to left and Harris into center field. I get that the pitcher's spot was coming up, but why wouldn't he just have Kearns pinch-hit, instead of removing his best defensive outfielder (Morgan) to accommodate a double-switch.

Would Tejada been able to take second on Carlos Lee's fly out to center if Morgan were still in the game? It was pretty close play on Harris' throw.

If anyone has ideas on that, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

4 comments

  1. Deacon Drake // July 11, 2009 at 5:48 PM  

    Sending Johnson early in the game with the middle of the lineup still up was stupid. Just stupid. The only thing I can think of is that the coaches have been instructed to be more aggressive to get that run before giving the defense a chance to turn the double play, which has been backbreaking at times this season.

    Later in the game, better runners on base, I don't think it was the wrong decision, just unfortunate that Harris didn't have the best jump... the Nats have to expect that their second fastest player could score from second on a single.

    Listach hasn't been bad this season... the base running IQ has been awful though. Runners get picked off regularly, and that is unacceptable.

    And as far as Acta's in-game substitution and personnel strategies, there is no rhyme or reason. I tried to break down his bullpen management early in the year, and there is almost no correlation

  2. Andrew Lang // July 11, 2009 at 5:54 PM  

    Lightening struck twice and boy did it hurt. I would rather have mistakes of aggression, but maybe you don't test his arm the 2nd time.

  3. Screech's Worst Friend (SWF) // July 11, 2009 at 6:06 PM  

    You said...Second, I still don't understand the double-switch in the ninth inning. Acta brought in Austin Kearns and Mike MacDougal at the same time, moving Willingham to left and Harris into center field. I get that the pitcher's spot was coming up, but why wouldn't he just have Kearns pinch-hit, instead of removing his best defensive outfielder (Morgan) to accommodate a double-switch.

    Excellent analysis. Why Manny Why??? Every time I see Kearns come into the game unless PH, I have to turn the TV off.

    Please take a poll of your STM and fanbase and see if they agree about DFA's to send 2 more packing (AK, RB) My guess it will happen anyway on July 31st. It was a happy day last year when July 31st rolled around.

    Elijah Dukes should be the RF and move Willingham to LF and move Dunn to 1st and make the trade of Nick Johnson while you can get good value.

  4. Andrew Lang // July 12, 2009 at 9:20 AM  

    http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/gameday/index.jsp?gid=2009_07_11_wasmlb_houmlb_1&mode=wrap

    Keep this boxscore for further records to prove the Nats had a complete game blowout win with every starter getting a hit and in fact every replacement player with an at-bat had a hit with the exception of Austin Kearns.

    Two players raised their batting averages above .300 in Willingham and Nick Johnson.

    All position players are now above .250 with the exception of Kearns and Belliard who still are both Mendoza award winners.

    Starting pitching is in the "improve mode" with the youth movement and notching another complete game win.