I was at Thursday afternoon's Brewers game (which lasted an excrutiating 3 hours and 50 minutes) as the Crew lost to Colorado 5-4 (Side note: Warren Wiegratz played The Star Spangled Banner on the saxaphone, and it was the highlight of the day!)
And the Brewers fifth run died on base in the 7th inning.
I am not talking about any of the nine other runners left on base during the game. I am specifically talking about Jody Gerut. Gerut started the season with San Diego, coming over in the recent trade for Tony Gwynn. Gerut had a big rookie year for Cleveland in 2003, but that was likely an overachievement year, as he has been a journeyman since.
And in yesterday's game, I realized why. First of all, I doubt that anyone has had much of a chance to see him in a Brewers uniform this season... not because he is the 4th/5th outfielder, but because he has never met a first pitch that he didn't like. Everytime he bats, it appears that his name is barely announced and he is a-hackin'. But he started Thursday's game, and in the seventh inning (with Casey McGehee on base) actually took a pitch! Then later in that at bat, he lined a clean single to center. A Jason Kendall walk later and Gerut was on second base with none out and the bases were loaded.
Pinch-hitter Corey Hart whapped a liner out to center. McGehee headed home and the throw went all the way to the plate. Baseball 101 says that in that situation, the runner on second has to get to third base. I took a quick look, and there was Gerut still standing on second. But wait, it gets worse.
Next batter Craig Counsell his a major league fly ball to the gap in right-center, but the right fielder ran it down. If Gerut were on third (like he was supposed to), he would have scored. Instead, not only was he not in position to score, he had wandered too far off of second base, and by the time he went back to tag up it was too late to get to third! Baseball 101, Paragraph 2 states that when on second base and a ball is caught by the right fielder, the runner always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, ALWAYS has to get to third base.
Jody Gerut's run really didn't cost the Brewers the game (it just made for a good title) but if his baserunning is symptomatic of all Brewers runners, then it will start costing games sooner rather than later.
Somehow over the past few years - and especially in the case of the Brewers - discussion often steers towards the term "smallball". Some people think it is the only way to play. Brewers manager Ken Macha appears to disdain it. Me? I hate the term. I guess it is supposed to be the opposite of having big, home run hitting players pounding the ball all over the yard.
The definition of "smallball" is actually - wait for it - baseball! Important stuff, like working the count, taking the extra base on a flyball (I am looking at you, Mr. Gerut), advancing a runner from second with no outs, stealing a base when not being held on, going from first to third on a single to right, etc. Sure, some players are capable of also stealing bases and bunting (be it for a sacrifice or to bunt for a hit). But just because the Brewers line-up usually contains six or seven guys capabile of 20 or more homers does NOT mean they don't have to advance on a fly ball.
Fundamentals like that are the difference in a couple of games a year. The teams that value those fundamentals tend to win. Those that don't... well, those fans think that another home run hitter is needed.