Ryan McMahon Steals Home, Ruins Narrative

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday night, I was at a wedding in Washington, DC. The bride was a Nationals fan and the groom was a Phillies fan. The band played “Dancing on My Own,” and the groom’s friends continued to sing the chorus well after the band had stopped playing. I had only met the happy couple a few times, but due to a last-second swap and a quirk of the venue’s layout, I ended up seated immediately in front of the spot from which everyone made their speeches. And I mean immediately in front of it. I was so close that I slouched down in my chair the whole time so that the back of my head wouldn’t ruin all the pictures. I was so close that I had to alternate between looking down at the table and looking past whoever was speaking and out the window, because I honestly thought that making eye contact from that distance would be too distracting for someone trying to deliver a heartfelt message of love. Otherwise, here’s what they would have seen whenever they looked down at their speech:

I’m aware that I bring some awkwardness with me every time I enter a room, but on Saturday, the room really met me halfway.

Not long after the father of the bride tearfully recounted the time, all those years ago, when he was away on a business trip and he called his pregnant wife from a payphone in the Atlanta airport and found out that they were going to have a little girl, I started vibrating. All of a sudden, my phone was blowing up.

Needless to say, I couldn’t exactly reach into my pocket and start scrolling at that moment. I had to wait until all of the wonderful people finished wishing the beautiful couple a long life filled with love, laughter, and happiness. The answer was worth the wait.

On June 5, I wrote about the Kutina Club for Insistently Unsuccessful Basestealers. This exclusive group is named after first baseman Joe Kutina, who stole zero bases on seven attempts in 1912. It welcomes all players who have been caught stealing at least four times in a season without successfully swiping a bag. At the time, McMahon was leading the big leagues with a sparkling 0-for-4 showing that featured one old-fashioned caught stealing, two pickoffs, and one stolen base that was overturned when a replay showed that his cleat came off the bag for a nanosecond. Not only was McMahon in line to join the Kutina Club, he was very nearly on pace to become its record-holder. Joe Coscarart went 0-for-11 in 1936, while McMahon was on pace to get caught 10.8 times.

Even if he didn’t want the record, all he needed to do to get his membership card and cool embroidered jacket was stay put for the rest of the season. Instead, McMahon not only stole his first base of the season, he stole home! That’s the hardest base to steal, since catchers like to squat right behind it on their big haunches, and pitchers like to throw their pitches right to the catchers, and when catchers are attempting to catch would-be basestealers at home plate, they often put up pop times in the neighborhood of 0.00 seconds. The next morning, I saw how McMahon pulled it off: With some help from Pittsburgh catcher Yasmani Grandal. Grandal, it turns out, is something of a soft-tosser.

We already have a term for when the defense concedes a stolen base: defensive indifference. We might need a new category for this play: indifferent defense, which describes when the team out on the field is indifferent not just to the advancement of the runner, but to the very concept of defense itself. Maybe defensive obliviousness would be more accurate, but either way, this is one of the easiest steals of home you’ll ever see. Grandal had been throwing the ball back to the pitcher like this all game. When McMahon reached third, Grandal started taking a quick peek at the runner before tossing it back, but his lollipops were as soft as ever. In fact, I went ahead and timed him.

From the time the ball left Grandal’s hand to the time it hit Jared Jones’s glove, 1.86 seconds elapsed. Even with 19th percentile sprint speed, that was slow enough that McMahon could time him up and waltz home. To be clear, this wasn’t entirely Grandal’s fault. McMahon was able to take an enormous lead with impunity because Ke’Bryan Hayes was shaded way over toward short and never made the slightest pretense of checking in on him. The side angle tells the story quite elegantly. Here’s the moment that the pitch hit Grandal’s mitt.

McMahon was a solid 20 to 25 feet from the bag, but he could have easily ventured much farther. Hayes was so far from the bag that he’s not even in the frame. McMahon’s lead was so enormous that both the home and away broadcasts cut to shots of it before Jones released the fateful pitch, but nobody on the Pirates showed the slightest concern. Maybe someone told them about the Kutina Club, or maybe McMahon just really wanted out of it. McMahon gave the slightest deke back toward third base when Grandal gave his cursory look down the baseline, but perhaps the most embarrassing part of the whole story is that he started running well before Grandal threw the ball. Here’s a still from the moment when it left the catcher’s hand.

McMahon is already in a full sprint. Hayes is walking even farther away from third base. Only the home plate umpire has noticed that the score is about to change.

In terms of effective velocity, ignoring the arc Grandal put on the ball and solely measuring how long it took for it to cover the 60-foot, 6-inch distance from home plate to the mound, it traveled at 22.2 mph. For reference, there have been only nine balls hit between 22 and 23 mph this season, and seven of them were bunts.

From the time Grandal released the ball, it took just McMahon just 2.43 seconds to touch home plate. Jones knew that home plate was McMahon’s long before he caught the world’s saddest successful Hail Mary pass. Here’s a GIF that shows moment of Grandal’s release, the moment the ball reaches its apex, and the moment it hits Jones’ glove. You can’t even call it a tragedy in three acts. It’s a play where the hero gets stabbed in the first act, and then acts two and three just consist of him slowly bleeding to death.

A few minutes later, the Pirates broadcast noted that third base coach Warren Schaeffer had sneaked over to McMahon right before the pitch, presumably to whisper that home plate was wide open. However, when they cut to a replay, he didn’t appear to say anything whatsoever. All the video showed was Schaeffer shuffling over toward McMahon while attempting to chew a wad of gum the size of a Jeep Cherokee.

I’m not sure Schaeffer could have said anything to McMahon if he wanted to. He looked exactly like my little brother did when he was 8 and he stuffed an entire pouch of Big League Chew in his mouth. Maybe Schaeffer’s stroll represented some sort of non-verbal signal — he was wearing a slight smirk at the end of the clip — but if Schaeffer did tip off McMahon by way of speaking, it probably came out something like, “Roo shud sfeel fome.”

The most amazing part of the whole ordeal is that the next time the Rockies got a man in scoring position — which was in the very next inning — Grandal hadn’t learned from his mistake at all. Here he is throwing the ball back to the pitcher. It’s still a lob! The ball still travels so high that it leaves the frame entirely! It’s one inning later! What are we doing here?

With that, McMahon was out of the Kutina club. What’s more, he led a mass exodus. The list below is from my original article on June 5. It shows all five players who had at least two caught stealings and zero steals at the time.

Empty-Handed Thiefs (As of June 5)

Jeimer Candelario stole two bases the very next day. Nick Senzel stole a base the day after that, and Brendan Donovan stole one a week later. That leaves Justin Turner and Nick Martini (who picked up his second caught stealing on Monday) as the last players standing to be caught twice without stealing a base. We’ll have to wait until the end of the year to find out whether they end up joining the club. However, McMahon is now in a club that’s only slightly less exclusive.

I was curious how many players ended the season in McMahon’s position, with their only stolen bases coming on a steal of home. This is a tricky thing to search for, so I reached out to Katie Sharp of Stathead, who graciously ran a query and found 183 players and 189 player seasons that met this criteria. The list includes legends like Joe DiMaggio, Roy Campanella, and Edgar Martinez, but I’ve decided to name this club after pitcher Ray Fisher. Five of the players managed to steal home twice in a season, and five players managed to make the list twice, but only Fisher made it three times, in 1915, 1916, and 1919.

So far this season, only McMahon and Andrew McCutchen are in line to join the Fisher Club of Exclusively Domiciliary Basestealers. McCutchen’s steal of home was even flukier than McMahon’s, only coming to pass because J.T. Realmuto threw the ball into center field when the runner at first took off for second. If either player finishes the season without stealing second or third, they’ll join Yordan Alvarez as the only player to enter the club this decade. If they do end up stealing second or third, I look forward to feeling my phone blow up at the most inopportune time possible.

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