Baseball showdown: Hamilton’s speed vs. the arm of Puig

CINCINNATI – There was a moment of pure baseball ecstasy that occurred at the end of the Reds-Dodgers game Saturday at Great American Ball Park.

If you love baseball, it’s hard not to appreciate how that contest finished.

With the game tied at 3-3 in the bottom of the 10th inning, Brian Wilson, aka “The Beard,” took the mound for the Dodgers. Ryan Ludwick led off the inning for the Reds and drew a 5-pitch walk against Wilson.

What happened next has become a common theme for Cincinnati baseball. Billy Hamilton, a September call-up for the Reds, entered the game as a pinch-runner for Ludwick. In 2012, Hamilton set the single-season stolen base record as a minor leaguer, and was already a perfect 3-for-3 in stolen base attempts in his short major league career entering Saturday’s game.

When the 22-year-old from Collins, Miss. entered the game, everyone in the stadium knew what was going to happen next – a stolen base attempt.

Wilson knew, as he threw over to first base three times in an attempt to keep Hamilton close to the bag, but to no avail. Hamilton took off on the second pitch of Todd Frazier’s at-bat and made it safely into second without a throw (Dodgers’ catcher A.J. Ellis dropped the ball, likely because he tried to rush the ball out his glove due to Hamilton’s quickness).

A couple Wilson offerings later, after Frazier failed to get a sacrifice bunt, the Reds’ third baseman poked a base hit to right field, setting the stage for what I believe is the most exciting play in baseball – a play at the plate.

But this was no ordinary play at the plate.

As I said, Frazier’s single went to right field, which happens to be where rookie sensation Yasiel Puig roams.

Puig owns every baseball tool in the book – power, speed, batting average, a good glove and, of course, a rocket for an arm (If you haven’t seen this guy throw, look him up on YouTube, now).

Most base-runners and base-running coaches have learned not to test the arm of Puig, who has seven outfield assists (3rd in the National League) in just 83 games.

But Hamilton isn’t most base-runners.

Reds third base coach Mark Berry gave Hamilton the go-ahead to try and score. Just as Hamilton took his first steps around third base, Puig had fielded the ball in shallow right and came up firing.

Hamilton has been clocked at just under four seconds when running from third base to home-plate. Puig can throw the ball over 100 miles-per-hour.

Something had to give.

In this instance, Puig’s throw was a couple feet up the third base line and bounced by Ellis. Hamilton did a hook-slide into home, touching the plate with his left hand to give Cincinnati the extra-inning victory.

Hamilton jumped up, raised his right arm in triumph and ran to celebrate with teammates between first and second base.

Puig, dejected, was the last Dodger to leave the field. Not many people have challenged Puig’s arm and succeeded.

In a titanic showdown between two of the game’s most unique players – one of the best arms in baseball and arguably the game’s fastest player – speed triumphed.

Moments like that do not happen very often, and as a fan of the game, it was something I am proud to have seen in person.

With the Reds and Dodgers all but guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, I have a feeling these two young superstars haven’t seen the last of each other this season.

All I know for sure, though, is that if there ever is a Hamilton-Puig re-match, you can bet I’ll be sitting back and enjoying every second of it.

Jordan Holland is a sports writer for The Marietta Times. He can be reached at 740-376-5449 or at jholland@mariettatimes.com