Every kid dreams, at one point or another, of what it would be like to pull off a massive heist, and baseball might be the only profession where you can achieve that dream legally. A guy who can steal a base holds a special kind of power over a game, diverting everyone’s attention away from its normal point of focus as he builds anticipation with his lead, decides the crucial point at which to take the risk, and then single-mindedly barrels into his destination as the fielders scramble to stop him. Jesús Aguilar has never been that guy. Until now.
The Miami Marlins first baseman, a hefty 6-foot-3 and 277 pounds, had gone 2,331 plate appearances without ever notching a stolen base, with his sprint speed of 24.1 feet per second ranking second to last on his team. That was the longest steal-less steak of any active player in baseball.
But now, just like second base in the first inning of Angels-Marlins, that record is gone. On an 85 mph pitch from Noah Syndergaard high in the zone, Aguilar unexpectedly took off for second. And even more unexpectedly, he got in cleanly, without even a collective intake of breath before the umpire’s call of safe. Aguilar made it look easy, as if he had been waiting for this specific moment his entire career and just hadn’t felt like showing off his baserunning prowess before now. (He’s 1-for-2 now overall in his career.)
After the Marlins’ 2-1 win, Aguilar explained what happened: “I was asking [first-base coach Keith Johnson], ‘Let me go,’ and he just said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you serious?’ And I just go. It was an off-speed pitch, it was a slow pitch. I think that’s why I got it.
“I was telling the umpire, ‘You don’t even have to call it.’ It was easy safe. Plenty of time to get there.”
Helping out the newly rechristened “Agui Hamilton” (after his brand-new teammate Billy Hamilton) was the fact that he was running on Syndergaard, who’s consistently been the worst starter in the league at holding runners on. While we’re talking about small fractions of a second here, I think his issue is even visible to the naked eye on this particular play. With the long legs of that 6-foot-6 body moving pretty slowly, any runner who can react to the rising of the pitcher’s left heel can get a pretty strong jump on him. Since his first year in the league in 2015, Syndergaard has allowed 159 stolen bases—30 more than any pitcher in that same period of time.
The new record-holder for most plate appearances without a steal is Milwaukee’s Omar Narváez, with 1,963. Unfortunately for Narváez, his Brewers don’t have Syndergaard’s Angels on their schedule this year.