Last night’s 6-4 loss to the Dodgers was, in a word, stinky.
It’s rough to watch a team battle back against the best outfit in the NL, only to drop a decision in extras.
What’s worse is the sinking feeling, earned and developed over a hard-luck season, that, in the end, the Padres were destined to lose last night’s game through some combination of mistakes. After all, that’s the only thing they’ve done with consistency across 132 games this year.
Sure enough, a late-inning defensive mistake from rookie Luis Urias was again the culprit in a gut-wrenching loss to L.A.
An ominous pattern
Last night marked the second time this month that Urias has made a galling fielding mistake in a Yates Situation. A Yates Situation, for those uninformed, is any situation in which All-Star closer Kirby Yates is appearing; since Yates basically only appears when the team has a tight lead or is in a tie-game, a Yates Situation is tantamount to saying crunch time.
Here’s Uri last night. A hot smash off the bat of Russell Martin, snagged gracefully, Uri plants his feet with time and...Oh.
⚾️: Un error del mexicano Luis Urías permitió que Kike Hernández anotara la carrera de la ventaja, con la cual Dodgers de se impuso a Padres de San Diego por 6 a 4 y pusieron a nueve su número mágico para asegurar el título de la división oeste de la Liga Nacional. pic.twitter.com/VSpkzpbi2O— José Juan Vázquez (@josejuanvazkez) August 29, 2019
That was, again, Russell Martin running down the first base line. Here’s what Martin had to say after the game:
Russell Martin, laughing, as he discussed Luis Urias' throwing error: "I don't know, he saw the blazing speed running down first base and he panicked and threw the ball over the first baseman."— Matthew Moreno (@MMoreno1015) August 29, 2019
In case your sarcasm meter is broken, that’s Martin laughing at us, and himself, for Urias doing anything more than rolling the ball to first when he’s charging down the line. Martin isn’t the slowest catcher in the game, but his 26.0 ft/s sprint speed is a fair click below league average.
In other words, there was no tactical advantage whatsoever in rushing that throw.
Of course, this latest Yates Situation gaffe comes just weeks after August 4th, 2019, when the Padres dropped an 11-10 game at Dodger Stadium largely because of Urias’ defensive lapses.
It was in that game that Yates dialed up a potentially inning-ending double play, hit right to Luis. Bobble, bobble, scoop to first. No outs. Inning continued. Then this happened:
Ouch. A relay throw cranked up the first base line, not even giving catcher Francisco Mejia a chance to make a tag.
The late-inning Yips
Close readers may notice that, in our headline, the word “Yips” is capitalized. That’s because the Yips are a very real thing and certainly deserving of proper noun treatment.
There is almost no validity to the notion that psychological pressure and anxiety do not influence performance. By now, most of us understand that performance anxiety (or social anxiety, as with former SS Khalil Greene) can be devastating for ballplayers and performers of any type.
It appears increasingly that our young infielder has at least a nascent case of these Yips.
"Most of us are human. We have to be a little bit more fundamental."— Jeff Sanders (@sdutSanders) August 29, 2019
"Everything happened too fast."
Luis Urias' throwing error is the pivotal play in the #Padres' 6-4 loss to the #Dodgers, souring what had been a mostly solid bullpen game. https://t.co/lm0mLZvDBL pic.twitter.com/SaproPZyim
That quote above seems to track with this diagnosis. The words “Happened too fast” simply aren’t what you want inside the lexicon of a professional ballplayer.
Athletes are human, for better or worse
My fear is that people might think that I’m being insensitive or overly critical of Urias, a 22-year-old infielder from tiny Magdalena de Kino in Sonora, Mexico.
There will be those that point to his youth, or the pressures of playing alongside Manny Machado, or the difficulty of shuttling back and forth between positions.
But, as is too often the case in the world of sports, we may not want to look at a more simple truth—that Urias is a man, intended to be perfect, who is very much struggling to be good enough right now.
Especially when it matters most.