In the sixth inning of an eventual 5-0 win over the Phillies on Tuesday, Dodgers catcher Will Smith plopped a base hit into opposite field with a runner on second. And then, somehow, the newest member of the L.A. batting order transformed this routine play into one of the coolest and most captivating moments of the baseball season.
Trea Turner, who came over from the Nationals in that big trade last month, was the guy who hustled around from second to score. Actually, not to shortchange him, but "hustled" is probably not the right word for it. As Turner arrives at the plate, his sliding motion calls to mind not the all-out blazing speed of a ballplayer desperate to beat the throw, but the smooth effortlessness of a ballet dancer or a figure skater. The Philadelphia dirt turns to ice as Turner glides over it, and his hand calmly caresses the plate to tally the run as he drifts by. I have headlined this post "Woosh," because that's what I keep whispering to myself as I watch this video. It's an extraordinarily pleasant thing to watch.
Whether it's because it happened late at night and everyone was kind of loopy—there was a big rain delay in this one—or because Trea is just the kind of dude it's fun to go nuts over, or because it put a spotlight on a neat baseball play a lot of us take for granted, people went frickin' nuts for this slide. We got emails about the slide. People I know who I don't think have watched an inning of baseball all year were talking about the slide. Everybody loves this slide!
What's interesting, then, to me, is that it's unclear if Turner himself really understands what makes this so special. He got asked about it after the game, of course, and I don't think it's hard to paraphrase his comments as "Uh, people care about that slide?"
"I’ve been doing that a long time," he said. "That’s just how I slide, I guess. I try to not hit the ground very hard because it usually doesn't feel great, so I try to be as soft as I can and slide, whether it’s head-first or feet-first. I try to avoid tags, but that’s just how I’ve slid basically my whole life."
I can kind of get where he's coming from. You can see a bunch of Turner slides in this YouTube compilation titled "Trea Turner Being Unbelievably Fast." There's pretty undeniable proof in there that Turner is a very good slider. There are no hiccups in his motion or unnecessary dirtiness, and he's always got his hands right where they need to be to ensure his safety. But Tuesday's slide was a cut above, a one-in-a-million combo of timing and speed and beauty and swag that entranced baseball casuals and obsessives alike. It might be for the best, honestly, the Turner is the only one who doesn't feel anything different about it from his normal motion. The power to create this on demand would be far too much for any one ballplayer to handle.