On Thursday afternoon, Lloyd McClendon conducted a base-running tutorial that seemed comically basic, leading his players to first base and then on to second and finally to third.
That evening, Robinson Cano went and committed a base-running blunder even more remedial than his manager’s pregame lesson.
Cano was picked off first base while standing only inches off the bag, caught staring into the outfield with Nelson Cruz at the plate and Erasmo Ramirez on the mound.
It was the kind of mistake that simply can’t happen, but the kind of mistake that Cano made. Again.
That’s the reason Cano should be benched for Friday’s game against Tampa Bay. Not just because the error was costly, preventing the Mariners from having the bases loaded with Kyle Seager at the plate in the fifth-inning of what turned out to be a one-run loss. And not just because McClendon had just given his team an on-field demonstration about something most would assume was second nature to professional baseball players.
The Mariners have exercised patience with Cano both with regard to mistakes and his struggles at the plate. They have been respectful. And for the second time in 54 games this season, Cano made a base-running error that wasn’t about either effort or ability but entirely about focus.
Back in April, Cano was caught off third base in Los Angeles as he began trotting home after a teammate’s walk. Cano thought the bases were loaded. They weren’t.
There was no excuse for the mistake, but the embarrassment Cano expressed after the game seemed sufficient to make sure something like that would never happen again. That was his mulligan.
To have it not only happen again but occur on the very day the manager took the team on a base-by-base lecture, well, that doesn’t seem like something that should be written off as an unfortunate mistake.
I love the way Cano fields his position, I respect his history of success in this game and I feel some sympathy over his struggles at the plate this season. He has remained both approachable and accountable and I have yet to see him so much as bristle when asked about his productivity or lack thereof.
This mistake is something different, though, and sitting Cano down even if it’s just to begin the game isn’t about punishment so much as drawing a very clear line: Paying attention isn’t an expectation, but a prerequisite for playing.
Cano already made the kind of mistake that can never happen again on the bases this season. Not only did he do it again, but he did on the very last day he should of given the manager’s message before the game.
Turns out that a big-league manager giving a base-running lecture before Thursday’s game wasn’t nearly as ridiculous as the little-league error his star second baseman committed during it.