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A brief history of MLB fielders faking out runners on the basepaths

Ender Inciarte's fake-out of Carlos Ruiz on Tuesday night was not just a moment of quick-witted brilliance, turning the usual brawn and athleticism of sports into a moment of James Bond-ian subterfuge, it was also the latest in a long run of great baseball decoys that tricked runners into outs or prevented extra bases. 

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In fact, the deke has likely been around since the very dawn of the game. As Jason Turbow and Michael Duca detailed in "The Baseball Codes," Boston catcher King Kelly famously pulled one off in 1892. With Cleveland's Jesse Burkett on second base:

"[Kelly] watched a clean hit as if the fielder had no chance for a play at the plate. Seeing Kelly drop both mask and mitt, Burkett slowed, thinking he would score easily. When the throw arrived at the plate, however, Kelly caught it bare-handed and tagged out the befuddled runner."

Ever since, fielders have done their best to fool those trying to run the bases. So let's take a look at nine of the best, starting with perhaps the most famous (or infamous, depending on your rooting interest) of all. 

Lonnie Smith is faked out in the World Series

Thanks to Jack Morris' 10 shutout innings and Gene Larkin's RBI single in the bottom of the 10th, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is considered one of the greatest Fall Classic finales ever played. If not for a heads up fake-out in the eighth inning, it could have ended very differently.

In the top of the eighth, Lonnie Smith was on first base when Terry Pendleton hit a double to the gap. While Smith should have had a chance to score as the ball rattled off the wall, he hesitated while rounding second base when Chuck Knoblauch and Greg Gagne teamed up to fake him out. 

While the Braves still had runners on second and third with no outs, Morris was able to work his way out of the jam and keep the game knotted at zero. It may be the only decoy to win a World Series. 

Lou Piniella's fake out

You wouldn't think it, but deft fake-outs have actually changed history. In the 1978 one-game playoff between the Red Sox and Yankees -- you know, the infamous Bucky Dent game -- the Red Sox were trying to rally in the bottom of the ninth. With Rick Burleson on first base, Jerry Remy hit a fly ball to Lou Piniella. Despite losing the ball in the sun, Piniella pounded his mitt which forced Burleson to stay at second base. Jim Rice followed with a deep fly out, which, had Burleson been on third base, likely would have tied the game. Instead, the Yankees escaped with the victory.  

If not for Pinella, "Bucky *!&($%&* Dent" never becomes a saying every Bostonian grows up knowing. 

Chase Utley's World Series save

It shouldn't be surprising that some of the best fake-outs are used during the biggest games. As Hall of Famer George Kell said about using the decoy:

"I would never do it unless it was a key run -- maybe could turn around the ballgame or something. You can't get away with it but a time or two, and then they know you're going to fake them."

That was the case for Chase Utley's heads-up play in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series. Tied at 3 in the top of the seventh, the Rays had Jason Bartlett on second when Akinori Iwamura hit a ground ball up the middle. Shaded toward first base, Utley made a great play by even getting his glove on the ball, though he topped it by what happened next. Utley faked a throw to first base, leading Bartlett to assume it was safe to head for home and break the deadlock. 

That was the wrong decision. 

 

Derek Jeter turns trickster god

While Jeter's career will be defined by his 3,000 hits and his more-rings-than-he-can-wear-on-one-hand, he still knew how to pull off a solid fake. When the Indians' Jason Kipnis tried to steal second in 2014, Asdrubal Cabrera popped the ball up to third base. Rather than clue Kipnis in to the fact that he should turn around, Jeter instead went into double play mode.

It worked out. Instead of turning around, Kipnis slid into second and looked toward third before even starting his trip back to first and was easily doubled off. 

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Ichiro gets in on the act

Even Ichiro's deking is fantastic. Despite Gregor Blanco's liner landing high off the wall, roughly 30 feet behind Ichiro, the right fielder didn't just fake out Joaquin Arias, preventing him from scoring, but he fooled the announcer, too. I wouldn't be surprised if Ichiro committed so fully -- like Daniel Day Lewis in "Lincoln" -- that he also thought he had lost the ball. 

Ian Kinsler purposefully drops one

Some of the best dekes look like terrible errors on first glance. Facing the Astros earlier this year, Ian Kinsler appeared to have done the baseball version of "What do I do with my hands?" on Tyler White's popup. 

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Instead, he was simply letting the ball drop so he could get the speedier Colby Rasmus out on an easy play at second, leaving the slower-footed White on first base. Likely the easiest of all of these to pull off, but also one of the most subtly genius.

Wilin Rosario's pump fake

At this point, Jose Altuve can do no wrong. He's won a batting title, led the league in stolen bases twice and found his power stroke this year with nine home runs and 15 doubles entering Wednesday's action. Before he could become Jose Altuve, crusher of baseballs, he had to endure this moment when he was known merely as Jose Altuve, man tricked by Wilin Rosario on a double-steal. 

Jon Jay fakes out the umpires

Normally fielders try to fool their opposition. Occasionally though, they'll try and get one by the boys in blue. While that usually doesn't work (see: Adrian Beltre's attempt), Jon Jay managed to get away with it. When the Pirates' Chris Stewart hit a deep drive to center field, Jay missed the ball, watching it bounce up high against the wall. Knowing that one run would likely score if his gambit failed, Jay held up the ball as if it had gone over the fence and had been thrown back to him. 

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While this may have been a bigger deal had the Pirates not been losing, 9-0, at the time, the deficit meant we can all enjoy Jay's sleight of hand trickery.  

Miguel Cabrera's attempted deke

Though not every deke, fake-out or trick will work out, they're all fun to watch. When Miguel Cabrera -- easily one of the top five most enjoyable players watch do anything on the field -- is the one orchestrating them, they're even better. Facing the Athletics in 2015, David Price tried to pick off the Athletics' Billy Burns at first base. After lunging to make the grab, Cabrera decided to see if he could fool Burns into taking off for second. Sadly, Burns never fell for it.

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Sometimes Cabrera's dekes are even to fool his own teammates. Why? That's something we may never know.