It looks like baseball will be tinkering with the intentional walk for the 2017 season.
Instead of pitchers throwing four high-arcing soft-tosses (or in Jered Weaver’s case — fastballs) to a catcher standing the opposite batter’s box, managers will just signal to the umpire when they want to walk someone, and that player will happily jog down to first base.
There has been plenty of pushback to a rule that basically changes nothing, but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead, let’s look back at one of the greatest intentional walk moments in baseball history, and break down how it all unfolded.
First, let’s set the scene. It was June 22, 2006, and the Marlins were playing their final game of a three-game inter-league series in Baltimore against the Orioles. Just two years-and-change removed from winning the World Series, the Marlins had finally started losing again. They came into the game with a record of 30-38, which was actually worse than the record of the lowly Orioles. The two teams had split the first two games of a series that already didn’t mean much.
After a 1-1 duel that was dominated by starting pitchers Scott Olsen and Kris Benson through 7 1⁄2 innings, Olsen’s outing unraveled in the bottom of the eighth. He allowed a go-ahead leadoff home run to Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez, and then was pulled after loading the bases with one out, leaving Taylor Tankersley to come in and clean up his mess.
Tankersley, despite being in the midst of a career-year, allowed two more runs to score, before giving way to Carlos Martinez (not the Cardinals’ ace), who gave up one more.
Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo went with Latroy Hawkins in the ninth to protect the 5-1 lead, but Hawkins allowed a leadoff single to Cabrera, and left with runners on the corners and one out. In came Baltimore closer Chris Ray, who was 18-for-18 in save opportunities at that point. However, Ray proceeded to give up a sac-fly, followed by back-to-back two-out home runs by Joe Borchard and Wes Helms to tie the game at five.
After a scoreless bottom of the ninth, the game went into extra innings, and the train wreck of a bullpen in Baltimore turned the ball over to 35-year-old right-hander Todd Williams. Williams entered that game with a 4.44 ERA and 1.78 WHIP, and he wasn’t very quick on his feet. So, the then-speedy Hanley Ramirez laid down a good bunt and was able to reach first base safely to lead off the inning.
Mike Jacobs then grounded out softly to second, but Hanley’s young-man speed allowed him to reach second base with one out.
Cabrera then came to plate. The 23-year-old was hitting .339 with an OPS of .992 coming into the game and had already driven in 45 runs on the season. He had a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .383 and opposing hitters had a BABIP of .357 against Williams.
First base was open with one out in a tie game, and Cody Ross was on deck, who was hitting a less-terrifying .292, and had racked up only 18 RBIs. Every word in the book said to not let Cabrera put the ball in play and to just walk him to set up the double play. So, that’s what the Orioles decided to do.
The one problem is, Cabrera is very (very) good. The other problem was that Williams threw intentional walk pitches like he was tossing the ball to a toddler. He lobbed the ball in there like he was absolutely terrified to throw the ball past the catcher.
That first lob ball came far too close to the plate, and Miggy was ready. He pounced on the pitch and slapped it into center field for a single that allowed Ramirez to score easily and give the Marlins a 6-5 lead.
Williams didn’t even really wind up. He just kind of stepped and threw like he was first learning how to throw a baseball. You can’t do that against Cabrera, and Williams learned the hard way.
The Marlins would score two more runs in that inning, thanks to an Orioles error, and go on to win the game 8-5, but that game will live on because Miguel Cabrera made teams put a lot more effort into the intentional walk.
Cabrera, or any other player, may never again get the chance to pull off something like this. But, instead of complaining about the most minuscule rule change, let’s all just bask in the wacky greatness that is Miguel Cabrera.