Holding runners was a big emphasis for Joe Ross this offseason and throughout spring training and on Sunday he got about as good a test as today's game of baseball can offer.
With a leadoff single in the top of the sixth, stepping off the bag to take his lead was Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon, the league-leader in stolen bases in each of the past two seasons.
Gordon is nicknamed 'Flash' just like his father, Tom, a former All-Star closer. But with all the steals -142 over the past two seasons - the moniker more aptly fits the son.
"You hate to see Dee Gordon get on base, especially with none or one out because he can wreak havoc over there," manager Dusty Baker said.
Gordon got on with no outs and Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich set to follow. Behind them was slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who is always ready to clear the bases of whatever traffic his predecessors can provide.
Ross' strategy began with throws to first. Between the at-bats against Ozuna and Yelich, Ross made seven pickoff attempts.
“We were joking in the bullpen, if we were in Miami, there’d be cups on the field, people would be booing," reliever Blake Treinen said. "Because that’s just how visiting fans are if you pick over so many times."
Pickoff attempts at first base happen all the time in baseball, but getting it there on the money is not as easy as it looks, or as Ross made it look.
"The fact that he threw the ball so accurately to first base — because how many times have you seen guys try to pick guys off and throw the ball away — that was great," Baker said.
"He made some good pickoff throws, too. It wasn't like he was just flipping it over there," first baseman Clint Robinson said. "He was really challenging him to get back to the bag and stay on the backside."
Ross also held the ball in his glove, looking over to Gordon often to let him know he was keeping a close watch.
“A lot of long holds always those always affect the runner," Ross said. "I worked on it a lot in spring training. Max [Scherzer] is big on the long hold. Won’t even really pitch until a guy calls time. But I think working on it through spring kind of helped me out and today, Dee on first and certain hitters I think that really played to my advantage.”
With a 2-1 count against Yelich, Gordon took off. Ross fired in a 91 mile per hour sinker and catcher Wilson Ramos wasted no time getting the ball out of his glove and into the air.
Ramos' throw found shortstop Danny Espinosa's glove with plenty of time to execute the tag. All of a sudden Ross found himself with two outs and some more breathing room as he faced the Marlins' No. 3 and 4 hitters.
"I think that the pickoffs kind of got him tired enough to where we had a really good chance of throwing him out," Ross said. "And Willy made a really good throw right on the bag. That was huge in that situation because once he gets on he could be on third within two pitches so that was big.”
"It worked perfectly," Treinen said. "It kept him in check. It was in the back of his head that he was going to pick over at any time. And it gave Wilson a chance to throw him out at second. It worked out probably just as good as we drew it up."
Ross laid the groundwork and Ramos finished the job. As a pair, they took out a lethal base stealer and saw some preseason work pay off in the process.
"I like that because it helped the catcher get the opportunity to throw this guy out," Ramos said. "We worked on that during spring training. He's been doing that really well. Now we are doing it during the season. That's perfect. We want to get the opportunity to throw this guy out. If the pitcher helps out, then we'll get the opportunity to get a lot of guys this year."