PHILADELPHIA -- Davey Lopes started things in the fifth inning Tuesday with a simple question for Cole Hamels: When was the last time you slid? "It's been a long time," Hamels replied.
Hamels, who was on first base, knew exactly why Lopes was asking. He wanted Hamels to steal second base. Lopes has been the Phillies' first-base coach since 2007 and is a major reason why the Phillies have been the most successful basestealing team in the Majors. The Phillies have stolen 85.1 percent of their bases the past three seasons. No other team in the Majors is better than 79.2 percent. Lopes is good because he has a knack for picking up a pitcher's tendencies, much like a poker tell. A shift in body weight, a simple head movement, can tell Lopes if a pitcher is about to throw a pitch, which means a baserunner can take off without fear of being picked off. He also instills confidence in his baserunners that they can steal a base if they want. But as good as Lopes has been, former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick had chided him the previous two seasons for one thing he had not accomplished. He had never had a pitcher steal a base. Lopes found the perfect opportunity in the perfect situation. Hamels was on first with two outs, so if he got caught, Jimmy Rollins would lead off the sixth inning. If he was successful, he would be in scoring position in a tight game. Lopes also had picked up Giants left-hander Jonathan Sanchez's move to the plate from the stretch in the eventual 1-0 victory over the Giants. He timed Sanchez's delivery to the plate at about 1.7 seconds, which is very slow. The Giants also weren't holding Hamels on the bag. "It's on you," Lopes told Hamels. "You do what you want to do. You can steal if you want." "OK," Hamels replied. Hamels saw Sanchez's move to the plate and took off. Hamels stole second easily -- there wasn't even a throw from catcher Eli Whiteside -- becoming the first Phillies pitcher to steal a base since Curt Schilling in 1997. He was the first pitcher who stole a base for Lopes since Andy Ashby in 1995, when Lopes was the Padres' first-base coach. "My reluctance is the sliding aspect," Lopes said. "If they feel comfortable, that's fine." Hamels' stolen base was a fun story Tuesday when it happened, but it might have long-term benefits. It might get teams thinking. Instead of having the first baseman play behind the runner, maybe they hold the runner on next time. And maybe the hitter hits a ground ball through the hole, a hole that would not have existed had the first baseman been playing off the bag like before. "I'm sure that'll be in the scouts' notes," Lopes said. Lopes said he could see Hamels, Cliff Lee and J.A. Happ stealing bases in the future, although don't expect those three to suddenly start running like madmen. The perfect situation has to present itself again, and next time there won't be the element of surprise. "The only way he wouldn't make that base was if he had fallen down between first and second," Lopes said.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.