The Royals entered the ninth inning of the 2014 American League Wild Card game down one run. The fact that they were within striking distance was impressive enough, as just an inning before, they were staring down Jon Lester and a four-run deficit. Alcides Escobar began that inning with a single up the middle. After stealing second, he was driven in by Lorenzo Cain, who stole second, and was driven in by Billy Butler.
It is easy to forget that the Royals eventually had the tying run on third with just one out that inning, before the air was sucked out of Kauffman Stadium by back-to-back strikeouts from Salvador Perez and Omar Infante.
Don’t worry, though. Sal would redeem himself.
But we don’t know that yet, because the Royals entered the ninth inning down one run. Josh Willingham, of all people, started off the inning with a bloop single to right field.
Kauffman was buzzing with hope, as a former 50th round draft pick named Jarrod Dyson trotted out to first base. Rather than have Dyson attempt to steal second base off of left-handed closer Sean Doolittle, Escobar laid down a sacrifice bunt, putting Dyson on second with just one out. As is the flaw of sac bunting with nobody out and a man on first, Dyson loomed in scoring position, but was still a hit or error away from scoring.
But then, on September 30, 2014, Jarrod Dyson recorded the greatest stolen base that ever was.
After an inside-move to second that didn’t yield a throw, Doolittle fell behind in the count 2-0 to Nori Aoki, before a foul ball pushed the count to 2-1.
Another Doolittle inside-move toward second without a throw followed. Up until this point, Dyson had seen two inside-moves and three pitches from second base. As Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs noted just a day later, Dyson’s stolen base was set up just the way he wanted it to.
While Kuntz and Dyson had unquestionably schemed a steal of third, it is hard to say if anybody watching truly expected it. The A’s respected the possibility, with Ron Darling noting during the broadcast that there was a huge hole on the right side of the infield, with second baseman Eric Sogard being tasked with keeping Dyson close.
However, this chess match was between Sean Doolittle and Jarrod Dyson, not Sogard or even catcher Derek Norris.
Doolittle then came set and fired a 2-1 fastball to the left-handed Aoki, and Dyson got a great jump. The pitch was middle-down, and despite having a lefty at the plate and Norris making arguably his best throw of the night, Dyson dove to the outside of the bag safely.
On the next pitch, Aoki hit a sac fly to the right field warning track, well deep enough to drive in Dyson, beginning the greatest multi-year postseason run in Royals history. Later, Salvador Perez punched the same pitch he struck out on in the eighth past Josh Donaldson in the twelfth to send the Royals to the ALDS.
The Royals would eventually sweep their way through the ALDS and ALCS and wound up just 90 feet short of a World Series title. Fresh off their first pennant in 30 years, the Royals came out of Spring Training the next season with vengeance in mind. They did not play a single game that season under .500, never trailed in the AL Central by more than a game, went onto win the division by 12 games. Following the miracles that were game four of the ALDS, the 9th inning of game six of the ALCS, and Eric Hosmer’s mad dash in game five of the World Series, the Royals were world freaking champions.
It is my contention that none of those things happen without a 50th round draft pick out of Southwest Mississippi Community College stealing the greatest stolen base that ever was.
Godspeed, Jarrod. Keep running.