On Wednesday afternoon in St. Louis, Reds centerfielder Billy Hamilton put on a show with his dazzling speed. His three-hit afternoon more than doubled his total on the season and included his first triple and first stolen base of the year. Even so, neither of those moments were as breathtaking as the way he scored the game's third run.
After starting the game with a triple that went for naught when Shelby Miller recovered to strike out Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto and induce Jay Bruce to ground out, Hamilton walked in the third inning and then led off the fifth with a single up the middle. As with the first stolen base of his major league career last September, his first steal of 2014 merely came against the best defensive catcher in the business, the Cardinals' Yadier Molina, who this time couldn't even get a throw off. After advancing to third base when Phillips flew out to rightfield, he scored on the shallowest of sacrifice flies by Bruce, one that probably could have invoked the infield fly rule had second baseman Kolten Wong caught it, because Votto had just drawn a one-out walk. The GIF via @GoldAndorSmith:
Vrrrrrooooom! The run gave the Reds a 3-0 lead that held up, giving Cincinnati its third win of the season against six losses.
UPDATE: Here's the steal:
If Hamilton's much anticipated moments in the spotlight feel as though they've been a long time in the making, that's because his legend has preceded him. He caught the baseball world's attention when he stole 103 bases in 123 attempts at Class-A Dayton in 2011, then followed that up with an astounding 155 steals in 192 attempts at High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola in 2012. His total dipped to 75 in 90 attempts at Triple-A Louisville last year as he struggled to get on base by hitting a thin .256/.308/.343, but in a September cup of coffee with the Reds, he swiped 13 in 14 attempts despite making just 22 plate appearances and three starts.
That meager Triple-A on-base percentage is a particular cause for concern given that Hamilton has been tasked with replacing the .423 on-base percentage of departed centerfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Coming into Wednesday, he had gotten on base just three times in 23 plate appearances, serving to remind the baseball world yet again that you can't steal first base. He went 0-for-12 in the Reds' first three games, drawing an eighth-inning walk in the last of those but staying put as St. Louis reliever Trevor Rosenthal struck out Phillips. Relegated to the bench the next day against the Mets, he was thrown out trying to steal when he entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning. He jammed the middle finger of his left hand in doing so, costing him another game, and while he went 2-for-10 in the first two games of the Reds' series in St. Louis, he hadn't worked up the moxie to run on Molina again until Wednesday. Whether Hamilton can consistently get on base will determine whether he lives up to his promise as a prospect or is merely a curiosity with more value in fantasy baseball than in reality. Of the major projection systems, neither ZiPS (.305), PECOTA (.295) or Steamer (.290) is very optimistic about the possibility, so it will be up to the 23-year-old speedster to prove them wrong. He'll need a fair number of days like Wednesday to make that happen.