SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Having left Kansas City to sign with San Francisco, Nori Aoki walked up to new teammate Juan Perez in the Giants spring training clubhouse and offered a cheerful greeting.
”Nice catch in the World Series,” Aoki told him.
If not for Perez playing shallow and closer to the foul line than he typically would, Game 7 and the title might have gone differently for Aoki and the Royals last fall.
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With a runner on second base and one out, the left-handed-hitting Aoki came up against Madison Bumgarner and flared what appeared to be a sure tying double toward the left-field corner. Shaded over, Perez seemed to come out of nowhere to catch the ball with a half-dozen strides, only a few feet from the foul line. That key play preserved San Francisco’s 2-1 lead.
”That’s a different ballgame if that ball gets by,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said
Bumgarner went on to strike out Lorenzo Cain, starting a streak of 12 straight outs, and the Giants captured their third championship in five years.
”I asked him, and he thought he had a base hit when he hit the ball, for sure,” Perez said. ”Then when he saw me running, he said, `Oh, he got me.”’
Perez was playing a good 5 feet closer to the left-field line than usual, thanks to spray-chart data and his own instincts about where Aoki would hit the ball.
In a time of increased focus on shifts and defensive alignments, Perez used guidance from coaches Roberto Kelly and Ron Wotus, who receive packets of information from the baseball operations department before each series that include statistical information, spray charts, potential shifts, matchup history.
Then, it’s up to the coaches to use it or apply it as they deem necessary.
Perez also had his own intuition. During an interleague trip to Kansas City in August, Perez noticed when Aoki sliced the ball toward the left-field line against Bumgarner.
”I was cheating more than regular because the ball in that stadium, I don’t know why, dies more away toward the foul line than every other ballpark,” Perez said. ”It happened to me in the regular season. He hit a fly ball against the wall. I thought I had it, like it was an easy catch, then I had to take off running even harder to catch the ball. I caught the ball against the wall. It was on my mind, and I was cheating even more.”
Chosen to start Game 7 for his defense, Perez came through with his best play yet. And for Aoki, that World Series miss marks one of the low points in his young career.
”The moment I hit the ball I thought, `I got that one pretty good,’ but then I saw Perez drifting over there and I knew immediately the ball was going to be caught,” Aoki said through interpreter Kosuke Inaji. ”You’re not ever going to forget playing in the World Series. Thinking of the situation, that might be the out I most regret making. It’s a good strategy. That goes into the idea of playing as a team.
”There are people who take the data, analyze it, give it to the coaches, give it to the players and the players make the adjustments. It just shows that everyone’s really involved.”