The man who set a professional baseball record with 155 stolen bases at two minor league levels last year couldn't have timed his first major league stolen base any better. Debuting as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning of Tuesday night's matchup between the Reds and the Cardinals, Billy Hamilton stole second base off none other than Yadier Molina, then followed that by scoring the game's only run.
Already a well-regarded prospect due to his blazing speed, Hamilton caught the baseball world's attention in 2011, when he stole 103 bases for Class A Dayton. He followed that with an astounding 155 steals in 2012, 104 (in 125 attempts) in 82 games at High-A Bakersfield and then another 51 (in 67 attempts) in 50 games at Double-A Pensacola. He stole 75 bases in 90 attempts at Triple-A Louisville this year, but struggled to adjust to upper-level pitching, hitting a thin .256/.308/.343, well off last year's sizzling .311/.410/.420. He's also had to grapple with a position change from shortstop to centerfield.
With a better season at the plate, Hamilton might have already played his way into the Reds' outfield picture — particularly with Ryan Ludwick missing more than four months due to a shoulder injury — but as he has now shown, he's a potent bench weapon for the stretch drive and the postseason. After the Reds' Homer Bailey and the Cardinals' Michael Wacha swapped zeroes for six and a half innings in Cincinnati on Tuesday night, Ludwick led off the seventh against reliever Seth Maness with a single, then gave way to Hamilton, who took flight on the first pitch to Todd Frazier. Here's the video from MLB.com:
[mlbvideo id="30292149" width="600" height="360" /]
As you can see, Hamilton got a great jump, while Molina's throw was high and away from second base, giving Kolten Wong little chance of applying the tag in time. The irony is that Molina is the game's most effective catcher at shutting down the running game. He came into the night not only having thrown out 43 percent of would-be base thieves (fourth in the majors) but having faced just 35 stolen base attempts in 932 innings (0.34 per nine) and yielded just 20 steals (0.19 per nine), the lowest rates in the majors among catchers with at least 300 innings. Hamilton wound up scoring when Frazier hit a 1-2 changeup from Maness into leftfield for an RBI double. Relievers Manny Parra and Aroldis Chapman each pitched scoreless innings in relief of Bailey, with the trio combining to hold the Cardinals to just two hits and two walks. The win pulled the Reds (78-61) with a game and a half of the Cardinals (79-59) with two more games to play in the series.