Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman had not allowed a single stolen base in eight starts this season heading into Thursday night. No base runner had even attempted to steal against him this season, and over the course of his career, Gausman has controlled the running game well. He’s quick to the plate, usually clocking a 1.1- to 1.2-second time to home, and had allowed just 20 stolen bases in 690 2/3 major league innings.
So how did the Boston Red Sox swipe five bases in 4 2/3 innings — including four in a four-run fifth — against Gausman in the Orioles’ 6-2 loss Thursday at Fenway Park?
Three of the five steals — all of second base — came after Red Sox base runners took huge jumps off first. Two drew pickoff throws to first that came after the runner broke for second.
It is a bizarre scenario that a pitcher with such success holding runners would suddenly struggle so mightily, let alone allow such huge jumps.
“That one kind of stuck in his craw,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “We had like four walks, the three 90 feet we gave up, a play we should [have made]. You know, that’s eight base runners. He was frustrated with that because he takes a lot of pride in it, but sometimes when you’re that quick to the plate, people know that you really don’t necessarily throw over there a lot because people aren’t running. So sometimes you can figure out when he’s not coming over completely. But we just need to get a step off there. It’s an easy thing to defend. Kevin’s good at that, too, so it’s something he’ll correct.”
Immediately after Thursday’s game, Gausman said it was “maybe something I need to take a look at,” but that, “it kind of raises some eyebrows as to how they knew and those types of things, but that’s all on me.” Before Friday’s game, Gausman explained it further.
“A lot of it was a timing thing,” Gausman said. “When I came up, my pick was going to be a 1-second hold and a then pick over, and if I wasn’t going to do that, then I was going to go home. That’s when I started holding longer to pick and that’s when they took off. I think it’s kind of crazy that it happened to happen like that. But yeah, I’m a guy who not many guys are going to be able to steal on me straight up, so I think any team is looking for a way for a guy to get to second base and they obviously found something. So yeah, I’m going to think about doing the same thing every pitch or really trying to watch them at all times. It’s not going to happen again, that’s for sure.”
In that decisive fifth inning, Gausman allowed a double steal — Mookie Betts took third and Hanley Ramírez swiped second on the trail — that didn’t draw a throw from newly recalled catcher Andrew Susac after a pitch on which Gausman struck out designated hitter J.D. Martinez.
“I don’t think it’s frustrating,” Susac said. “I feel we’re trying to make pitches out there. I know Kev was trying to bear down on Martinez on the double steal. A couple of miscommunications on the pickoff, or whatever when they were stealing. But I’m not frustrated at all. It’s a team game, so the stolen base at the end, it’s on Gaus and I, but it is what it is.”
If the Red Sox knew the Orioles’ pickoff throw signs, Gausman said that happens all the time, and it’s a part of the game, and maybe they have to do a better job of mixing up signs.
“I think every team in the league can get signs multiple ways and from first base,” Gausman said. “I think a lot of coaches in the big leagues look into the catcher and there’s nothing against that. It’s not necessarily hailed or praised, but there’s nothing illegal about it. Maybe that’s something where maybe our catchers need to close their legs a little bit more and be conscious. We knew there are specific teams in our division that have historically done that and we try to switch things up when we play those teams and maybe it’s something now that every team’s doing it so we have to do it every game. But no, I don’t think they were cheating or anything like that. I think maybe they did some good scouting on me.”
Gausman’s inability to control the running game definitely played a part in his struggles. Martinez’s two-run homer in the first came after Betts, who stole three bases on the night, swiped second to move into scoring position. And the four steals Gausman allowed in the fifth were compounded by frustration he showed on the mound from not getting borderline calls and check-swing appeals from plate umpire Tony Randazzo.
“We try to control the things that we can control and everything else, it’s not in our control, we can’t,” Gausman said. “That might have been a difference between me giving up four runs or five runs rather than six. Those are the things that might allow me to go out for the sixth inning again and save the bullpen. So, there’s a lot of variables that go with me messing that up.”