When Eduardo Nunez threw out Matt Carpenter trying to stretch a double into a triple for the first out in the ninth inning of a scoreless game Saturday at Busch Stadium, reaction to Carpenter’s terrible decision on the Fox broadcast was immediate.
“Carpenter makes the cardinal sin of making the first out at third!” exclaimed Joe Davis, the play-by-play broadcaster for the game.
Because Davis knows a little something about baseball (in addition to his work for Fox, Davis was also hired to fill the seat of the great Vin Scully on Dodgers broadcasts), he drew upon a common adage of the sport in real time: Never make the first out of an inning at third base.
There’s no context required. Especially when representing the winning run in the final inning, but that shouldn’t really matter: Just don’t do it, ever.
The reason that a play from Saturday is still relevant late in the following week is because Wednesday morning was the first time Carpenter’s own thoughts on the matter were publicly divulged. That’s because Carpenter did not speak to the media following Saturday’s game. It wasn’t until a few days later with the team in Los Angeles that Derrick Goold, beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was able to track Carpenter down to discuss the incident.
Instead of simply acknowledging his poor decision, Carpenter gave Goold a laundry list of explanations for his blunder on the bases, including Nunez’s inexperience as an outfielder, and the fact that Jedd Gyorko likely wouldn’t be asked to bunt him over to third had he settled for a double. Carpenter’s insistence to Goold that “you cannot win the game from third if you’re not on third,” neglected to recognize the reality that you can’t win the game at all if you’re tagged out.
While it’s easy to imagine that Joe Davis came up with his ‘cardinal sin’ quip on the spot, it’s less conceivable that Carpenter had time to decipher all those thoughts as he rounded second. In the heat of the moment, it wasn’t about an algorithm: he simply went for the extra base as a player on a team hell-bent on aggressive base running.
It’s inexplicable–but it’s not unforgivable.
See, Carpenter could have rather easily won over the media–and more importantly, the fans–by expressing some regret for his miscue. He could have taken an approach similar to, say, Kolten Wong after some of his recent forgettable moments.
Wong says he told teammates in clubhouse 'Hey, this one's on me.'— Brenden Schaeffer (@bschaeffer12) May 2, 2017
Matheny pulled him aside after, encouraged him. "I really respect that."
That sequence came earlier this month after a Wong error helped the Cardinals throw a game away. Not all fans were satisfied by Wong that day–he's often been a lightning rod for criticism–but immediate ownership of his mistake to both his teammates and the fans carried weight; it showed that regardless of Wong's perceived stature on the team, he intended to display leadership. (For what it's worth, Wong contributed significantly to a win the following game.)
Now, Carpenter's handling of Saturday's situation hasn't necessarily burdened the club since; the Cardinals have won two of three, and Carpenter has contributed offensively in both wins. Still, it should matter that a player viewed as a team leader addresses his game-altering mistake effectively.
Differing standards for players of different statuses sets a poor example. Sure, the veteran player dogging it to first base on a routine grounder is a familiar concept–it's generally accepted with only the diehard fans left griping. Under the ubiquitous baseball code, those kinds of things happen.
But as a spokesman for a team consistently mired in irksome gaffes of this ilk, Carpenter's situation strikes a different tone. It's certainly not the most serious debate in the world–it's baseball, after all. But rather than his myriad protestations, a candid "yeah, I screwed that one up," would have been nice to hear.