Don’t run on Yadi? Reds’ Billy Hamilton thinks otherwise
ST. LOUIS — After watching Reds rookie Billy Hamilton run all over the Cardinals on Wednesday afternoon, perhaps it is time to reconsider how to define speed on the baseball field.
How about this: There is fast, and there is Billy Hamilton.
And Billy Hamilton was on full display in the Reds’ 4-0 victory at Busch Stadium.
Start with this: He stole two bases in two attempts with Yadier Molina behind the plate. Going back to a pair of pinch-running appearances last season, Hamilton has stolen four bases without being caught by the Gold Glover.
Didn’t Hamilton get the message that guys don’t steal on Molina?
"I have more respect for him than every other catcher, yes, that is correct," Hamilton said. "He is the best catcher in the game. But as a base stealer, your job is to get to second."
Add a steal by Chris Heisey and Molina went 0 for 3 on throwing out base stealers for the first time since 2012, and only the sixth time in his career.
Hamilton’s first swipe led to a run that he manufactured practically by himself in the fifth. He singled, stole second, took third on a fly to fairly shallow right field and scored on an even shallower fly to right.
The sac fly was so shallow, in fact, that second baseman Kolten Wong could have made the catch. He didn’t because he was moving backward and right fielder Jon Jay was coming in. Jay, however, would have needed perfect footwork and a rocket throw to cut down Hamilton. He had neither.
Hamilton said he was spurred on by a challenge from third-base coach Steve Smith to "see how fast you really are."
"I knew I had to go," Hamilton added. "It’s baseball instincts. You have to be able to know when you can run. I have great baseball instincts."
In the ninth, Hamilton scored when he bunted his way on, again stole second and came home on a single to right. He finished 3 for 4 with a walk, and the one time he was retired, he was robbed of a hit by third baseman Matt Carpenter.
The highlight of an uneventful game for the Cardinals might have been when they kept Hamilton from scoring after he led off the game with a triple.
"You keep getting him on base and things are going to happen," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We saw that. He puts a little different pressure on the pitching, there’s no question about it. He made things happen. It was the difference in the game."
Hamilton, of course, didn’t steal his first base on Molina on Thursday as much as he did on Shelby Miller. Molina didn’t even bother to throw to second. In the ninth, with Pat Neshek relieving, Molina at least was able to get off a throw to second, but the play really wasn’t close.
Molina says he has seen a couple of guys as fast as Hamilton, but never before had he seen someone score from third on what was little more than a popup to second.
"Every time he’s going to be on base, he’s going to be dangerous," Molina said. "A guy with that speed can change the game."
While Hamilton is regarded as the fastest player in the game today, a veteran scout in attendance did not have to think long to come up with a player who was even faster.
"Ichiro," said the scout, referring to Ichiro Suzuki when he first arrived in the major leagues. "He could get to first in 3.75 (seconds). I had Hamilton at 3.88."
Hamilton’s advantage is quickness. "One step and he’s at full speed," he said.
In the first five meetings over the past 10 days, the Cardinals weren’t bothered by Hamilton’s speed because they kept him off the bases. He went 0 for 12 with a walk in three games at Cincinnati last week, and he started this series with a couple of 1-for-5s.
But don’t be surprised if he starts to take off after this performance. After scoring his first runs and stealing his first bases of the season, he believes his time is coming.
"Today was a big game for me," said Hamilton, who has not batted against any team except the Cardinals so far this season (a sore hand kept him from batting against the Mets last weekend). "I needed one of these games to calm me down, give me some confidence."
The Reds face the Cardinals in Cincinnati again next month, but they won’t return to Busch Stadium until Aug. 18. The way Hamilton was talking, the Cardinals should be glad they won’t see much of him for a while.
"Baseball is about to get fun," he said. "That’s all I’m going to say."
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.