D-backs team up, thrill skipper with key out at plate: 'I love that play'

May 20th, 2024

PHOENIX -- It looked like disaster for the D-backs when pinch-hitter Kerry Carpenter’s ball hit the wall in center and caromed past center fielder Corbin Carroll. With two outs, Spencer Torkelson was running on contact and easily came around from first to score.

Tigers third-base coach Joey Cora, known for his aggressiveness in sending runners, saw the ball bounce away from Carroll and frantically waved Carpenter around third to try for the inside-the-park homer.

Torkelson’s run tied the game and Carpenter would have given Detroit the lead, but right fielder retrieved the ball, hit cutoff man , who threw a one-hop strike to catcher at the plate to nail Carpenter by inches.

The D-backs rode that momentum to a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning and managed to salvage the final game of the series with a 6-4 win on Sunday afternoon at Chase Field.

It was the play of the game so let’s break it down …

Lovullo loves these kind of plays

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo was an infielder during his big league career and there is nothing he relishes more than good, fundamental defensive plays, especially when it involves cutoffs and relays.

To pull off a relay from that part of the ballpark requires a lot to go right. First, Smith had to have the awareness that with the high wall in center and Carroll going all the way back to the wall to try and make the catch, he needed to be backing up the play.

Smith did that perfectly, picking up the baseball and after a brief bobble, he hit shortstop Newman, who is the lead cutoff man with a good throw. If Smith airmails it over Newman’s head, there’s no chance they get Carpenter.

Newman then threw a perfect one-hopper to the plate. If Newman’s throw short hops Barnhart it would make it hard for Barnhart to cleanly field it and put the tag on. Also, Barnhart had to not only catch the throw and tag Carpenter, but he had to make sure he did so without blocking the plate.

“I love that play,” Lovullo said. “I love that the entire team is engaged. Everybody has some responsibilities. Everybody's rotating. You have to think fast. It's a team concept that I really enjoyed watching. When it’s done right, it’s very powerful.”

Newman couldn’t hear Marte

Second baseman Ketel Marte is the trailing cutoff man in that situation and he’s tracking where the ball needs to get thrown to and communicating that to Newman.

However, with the crowd noise building as Carpenter rounded third, Newman couldn’t hear Marte, so it wasn’t until he caught the ball and turned that he saw Carpenter heading home.

“Marte is screaming but I just couldn't hear,” Newman said. “So, just turned my head and saw that he was going to try to put it on Tucker as best I could. You know, thankfully got there just in time.”

Barnhart multi-tasking

When the rule about catcher’s not blocking the plate first came out, Barnhart was with the Reds and he credited the way the coaching staff taught the rule to him for how he’s been able to avoid violations.

As the play was unfolding, Barnhart could hear Cora screaming at Carpenter and waving him home, so he knew the play was coming.

“You’ve got to try and stay away from blocking the plate as much as possible,” Barnhart said. “But at the end of the day, you gotta go make the play to catch the ball and make the tag. It's a great relay from Pavin to Kevin and then Kevin to me. Made my job easy, just had to get to tag down.”

Replay confirms

Tigers manager A.J. Hinch didn’t hesitate to challenge both the out call and whether Barnhart blocked the plate.

D-backs players congregated on the field watching the replay on the scoreboard to see what the replay officials were looking at.

“I knew I tagged him,” Barnhart said. “I just wondered if I got it on him in time.”

Replay officials ruled that Barnhart did not block the plate and confirmed the out call.

It was the defining play of the game. One that made the manager happy and gave the players a happy flight to Los Angeles, where they will open a series with the Dodgers on Monday night.