SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants needed Buster Posey to use a catcher’s mitt. Instead, he waved a bullfighter’s cape.
The sixth inning Tuesday night wasn’t the first time that Posey missed a tag at the plate, just the most egregious one. And it couldn’t have been a comfortable 35 seconds for the former NL MVP when the big screen showed the embarrassing replay following Bruce Bochy’s decision to challenge the ruling.
Hunter Pence’s throw from right field arrived at least 10 feet ahead of Braves baserunner Jason Heyward. Posey received it, turned and blocked most of the lane.
But not all of it.
Heyward slid late and hooked wide. Bochy called the play “creative.” Posey called it “a shame.” Right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who already had set a career high for strikeouts in a 1-0 game, said the only thing he could.
“He was safe,” Vogelsong said.
Replays confirmed it. The catcher stayed high when the runner went low. Posey did not initiate contact. He never does.
The rest was all awkward silence in a 5-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves at AT&T Park. The Giants mustered just five hits, and none in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. Posey had three of those at-bats, too.
On a stale and sultry night, the only remaining suspense was in the interview room. Would Bochy dare criticize his golden child? Would Posey be accountable for his feeble jab at air? And would anyone have the stones to admit that these plays at the plate have become an institutional problem?
“He just missed the tag. … These slides are getting creative. This is not the first time we’ve missed a tag. It’s a case where he just missed him. You do all you can to get the glove on him, whether it’s at second or third or home. … He was in a pretty good position. He had two hands going at him. It caused his reach maybe to be a little short there. But you learn from it and that’s all you can do.
“It’s one of those plays he thought he had him easily. We learn from this. Maybe take a little more (of the plate) away to make sure that we do have the coverage before he hits home plate.”
Honest, not blistering. But you didn’t expect that, did you?
“I thought I was in the right position. I didn’t think really there was a way for him to get around me. It’s a shame I missed him because that would’ve been a big out in the game. It kind of flip-flopped the momentum a little bit. … You don’t have time to think it happens so fast. I caught the ball and saw him in front of me. If I could go back I think I would’ve just jabbed a little bit more. But it is what it is.”
If it is a learning experience, as Bochy put it, what exactly did Posey learn?
“Well, probably to, like I mentioned earlier, try to be a little bit more aggressive with the tag, just in case a guy … I mean, you don’t expect a big guy like that to be able to move as well as he did,” Posey said. “So I think that’s it. Just be more aggressive with the tag and make sure I really leave no question.”
It will always be a question when it comes to Posey and plays at the plate. Even if Scott Cousins had never bent a blade of grass at AT&T Park, the Giants would cringe whenever a baserunner hurtles down the third base line toward Posey. It is a bassinet on a motorbike. It is the intersection of priceless value and extreme danger.
Of course, without Cousins’ spear tackle on Posey three years ago, on a similarly warm May evening, there is no Rule 7.13 to prevent catchers from being targeted in home-plate collisions.
The new and experimental rule does not allow catchers to block the plate unless they have possession of the ball. Posey had possession, and time to spare. He could have formed a wall as thick and wide as the right field arcade. But even that wouldn’t have filled his job description on that play.
Maybe a catcher doesn’t sign up to be a crash test dummy. But he signs up for contact. He signs up for the occasional collision. And frequently, it’s his job to initiate it.
Posey does not initiate contact. He is taught to stand in front of the plate and reach back, swiping at the runner. At worst, apply the tag with a glancing blow. For the second consecutive Tuesday, Posey needed to do more.
It is a devil’s bargain that he does not -- which is little solace to Vogelsong, or to Tim Hudson, when Posey did not wall off the plate from Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte exactly one week earlier.
Marte scored the winning run in the ninth inning at PNC Park when Posey tried to play catcher like a second baseman, standing and straddling the plate while putting down a tag. He had the ball and every right to use his shinguard as a portcullis. But he has not taken a knee in front of the plate. Not since that night when Cousins blindsided him.
The Pirates were walk-off winners that night when the out call on the field was overturned. This time, Bochy used his challenge because it was the sixth inning, it involved a run potentially coming off the scoreboard, and there was one angle that showed Posey might have nicked Heyward’s jersey.
It only took 35 seconds to deny the challenge. It could’ve taken less time than that. Posey’s non-reaction was telling enough.
He wants to stay a catcher as long as he can. Maybe he's beginning to understand what that means he has to do.
“I never felt anything, to be honest with you,” Posey said.
Not even a ruffle of his cape.