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Evan Longoria and “The Collision”

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A bizarre infield injury ended Longoria’s 2021 offensive renaissance.

Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Three Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Evan Longoria’s season ended on June 5th when he and Brandon Crawford collided while attempting to field a routine ground ball to the true shortstop position. Unfortunately, with a runner on first and a lefty pull hitter up, the infield was shifted to the first base side and no one was playing true shortstop. What resulted was a strange, football-style collision between two veteran infielders. Crawford was able to roll away and dust himself off after the hit, visibly angry but physically fine, while Longoria lay face down in the dirt, clearly in pain. In the replay, Longoria’s glove arm is outstretched, his left shoulder exposed as Crawford barrels into it, sending one part of Longoria’s body in a different direction than the rest.

At the time, many thought it was Longoria’s “fault” that the collision occurred at all, believing the grounder was “clearly” Crawford’s ball. After watching the replay, I’m not convinced. Or maybe I’m just bored—so what the hell, it’s Tuesday, there’s a work-stoppage, let’s over-analyze this thing.

First, let’s note the positioning.

Crawford is set up on the outfield grass and close to second base, keeping the option of a game-ending double play a possibility. Longoria plays more in the 5.5 hole and not as deep as Crawford. When Anthony Rizzo makes contact, his bounding grounder will split the difference between the two defenders.

The ball is not well hit, bounding, and it’s important to note that Crawford has to break to his right to line up with the ball. It appears that he does at the last second, but I’m not sure if he fielded it cleanly whether he would make a play for the out at second or settle for the out at first. I have no doubt in Crawford’s ability to get off the throw to second, but it would’ve been far from routine.

Longoria’s momentum, on the other hand, is taking him towards second, making a double play, or an out that keeps the tying run out of scoring position, a likely possibility.

Note in the image below that both infielders are in range of the ball. Consider Crawford’s angle compared towards Longo’s. Going off this frame, I’d say this is Longoria’s ball. He has the better angle and momentum to get the lead runner at second and potentially start a game-ending double play.

In this next image, milliseconds later, we see Crawford getting to the ball slightly before Longoria. Crawford feels as it is his ball, Longoria has no idea Crawford is there until he blindsides him from behind.

Though I think the various infield shift positions could’ve had an effect on the miscommunication, I think that’s an easy “out”. The shift is newish–it is not new, and to say two veteran infielders who take hundreds of thousands of millions (read: a lot) of ground balls a week in varying infield configurations, both became so disoriented by that particular set-up (which is far from the wackiest) that they lost track of where each other was playing feels like a stretch.

What I think played a more significant role was Longoria’s brief hesitation after the grounder was struck. He takes a step to his left at contact and then stutters. It’s not huge, but the hiccup is enough so he has to rush towards the ball to make up ground.

But what I think played a more-more significant role is the context this play unfolded under. Earlier that inning, Mauricio Dubon, playing second, booted a grounder and then bobbled an exchange during a potential double play. Instead of two-outs and the bases empty in the 9th, there were runners on first and third and the Giants were in danger of losing the lead. Tyler Rogers was doing his job, keeping the ball on the ground, and the infield was blowing it. Someone needed to step up and when a grounder presented itself, two capable and tenured captains at their positions volunteered.

Both Longoria and Crawford wanted to make a play, they wanted to pick their teammate up and stop the bleeding. They failed miserably–but who is at fault? I can see arguments to both sides. I can also see why finding blame is pointless.

Over-analysis achieved.

At that moment, in the 9th inning of what would be eventually a 4-3 win over Chicago, Longoria had logged possibly his best offensive start since joining the San Francisco Giants in 2018. Though his May had cooled an incredibly hot April, he still owned a .280 / .376 / .516 batting line. He was a daily, right-handed bat that would hit for power and get on base. His OPS neared .900, matching well with Crawford’s. He was just another mid-thirties Giants veteran success story, rediscovering the groove in his swing after seasons of lackluster performance.

The Giants were in first place in June–ahead of the Padres, ahead of the Dodgers??? It was a weird time–and one that everyone in baseball assumed would end soon. Being a literary guy, I predicted that Longoria’s injury would foreshadow the Giants’ decline. It was a necessary plot point, the beginning of the end. It was only a matter of time before injury and/or age and/or some other literary device would catch up to the other out-performing players.

Obviously, I was wrong. The Giants as a whole carried on charmed, but for Longoria, the situation was more dire. He didn’t return until August 14th. A week later, he went on the 10-day IL again with a hand contusion. In 31 games after his shoulder sprain, his numbers plummeted at the plate. His OPS dropped to .729.

A shoulder injury is no joke. Just ask Cody Bellinger (or don’t ask him. Better yet, let’s just forget about him). It’s hard to get your bat speed back, it’s hard to catch up to elevated pitches. Evan Longoria is 36 right now and it is TBD whether his body will be able to fully recover from something like that. He is signed through the 2022 season, with a club option for 2023. Right now, he’s the Giants starting third baseman…but as Grant Brisbee wrote in his Athletic article today, he doesn’t have to be.

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention Longoria’s home run against Max Scherzer in game 3 of the NLDS. That ball was absolutely crushed and should probably be seen as proof that Longoria’s shoulder feels fine.