Speed is the one weapon that has been missing from the San Francisco Giants’ arsenal through their recent run of success. The last Giants player to reach the 30 stolen base mark was Dave Roberts with 31 in 2007.
This year, though, first-year Giant outfielder Nori Aoki has reinvigorated the leadoff spot with the wheels that have been lacking for nearly a decade. His 12 steals are good enough for fifth-most in the National League, and have him on pace for 35 on the campaign.
Five times being caught stealing, however, ties Aoki with St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Peter Bourjos for the second-most in the NL.
Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates, a pair of base running blunders cost the Giants not just a pair of runs, but possibly the victory.
In the third inning, with two down, center fielder Angel Pagan came to the plate with Aoki at second as the potential tying run, and second baseman Joe Panik at first. On an 0-1 fastball, Aoki was gunned down during an ill-advised steal of third by Pirates’ catcher Francisco Cervelli.
After the game, Bochy quipped about keeping Aoki on base:
“We may have to nail him to the bag … I should have put the hold on, but I didn’t think he was going to go there.”
Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy is pleased with his leadoff man’s aggression on the base paths, but would like to see it under more control:
“He just gets a little too aggressive at times … You don’t want to take that away. But at the same time, you’ve got to play a little smarter.”
Aoki stood by his decision, saying through personal translator Kosuke Inaji he felt the risk was worth the reward:
“I thought I could get to third. The results obviously show that I was out, but I thought I could get to third.”
The play was close enough to warrant a manager’s challenge. But after a three-and-a-half minute delay, the play was upheld and the rally was over.
After breaking one of baseball’s golden rules in the third inning – making the third out of an inning at third base – another mistake by the 33-year-old veteran would loom large in the eighth.
Still down by one, and following a pair of singles by Aoki and Panik to start the eighth inning, Pagan was once again at the plate with a chance to change the game. But a 0-1 liner rocketed over Aoki’s head and into the glove of Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer. Being too far from the base to scamper back, Aoki was doubled off.
Though Bochy said that the play was unlucky for his squad, he felt that Aoki’s gamble was not necessary:
“We got a bad break. Angel (Pagan) smoked that ball and (Aoki) got doubled off. Even if he holds his ground, and it gets over (Mercer’s) head, he still would have scored.”
For Aoki, any mistakes must not come at the expense of his activity while on base:
“You have to stay aggressive, it’s a long season. Even after today, I’m still going to stay aggressive. That’s a good way to put pressure to the other team.”