WASHINGTON — June 27 is National Sunglasses Day. But clearly, Trea Turner must have misheard and thought it was Nationals Run Fastest Day.
In the Washington Nationals‘ 6-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday, Turner tied a franchise record by stealing four bases. It’s a feat that was last accomplished way back on June 18, 2017, by Trea Turner. He is the first player to steal four bases in a game twice in the same season since Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon both did it during the 2015 season. With his four thefts Tuesday, Turner leapfrogged Hamilton to take over the major league lead with 32 steals. More important, he kick-started the Nationals’ offense.
In the bottom of the first, Turner led off with an infield single, then stole second and third before scoring on another infield hit by Brian Goodwin to make it a 1-1 game. It was more of the same in the bottom of the third, when Turner started the inning with a walk, stole second and third, then scored the go-ahead run when Daniel Murphy reached on an error. If it weren’t for baseball’s esoteric unwritten rule book — and Turner’s relative inexperience — he might have threatened the modern-day record of six steals in a game.
After a fourth-inning whiff and a fifth-inning popout, Turner led off the eighth with a single to right field. With his team leading by five runs at that point, he wasn’t exactly sure what the proper protocol was.
“I don’t know,” Turner, 24, said slowly and cryptically after the game when asked if the decision not to run was his or the team’s. “I don’t think I was held, but I didn’t know if I was supposed to go, so I was just looking for maybe a dirt ball, a passed ball, something like that. Just being on base in general is good for our team and bad for theirs. Didn’t want to do anything stupid.”
Despite settling for a paltry four steals on the night, Turner has now swiped 19 bags in June, which is more steals than 24 MLB teams have this month. Thanks to an assist from the summer solstice, he appears to be well past the April hamstring injury that sent him to the DL and railroaded his ground game.
“When the weather was cool, he couldn’t run,” Nats manager Dusty Baker said of his leadoff man. “Now the weather’s warm. He feels better.”
“It [took] a while,” said Turner, who as a rookie last year stole 33 bases in less than half a season.
This year, through Memorial Day 2017, his bum wheel had limited him to 11 steals, which at the time was 16 fewer than the league leader, Hamilton. Four weeks later, he’s surpassed Cincy’s speedster and is on pace to make a run at becoming the first NL player to swipe 70 bags since Jose Reyes a decade ago.
“Some days you feel good, some days you don’t,” Turner said. “Sore, not sore, whatever it is. I think it’s a day-by-day thing, but now I feel good.”
Part of feeling good means knowing when to lead with your hands and when to lead with your feet.
Normally a head-first slider, Turner said he will go feet-first if he feels like he has the base stolen easily in an attempt to give his body a break from the beating that comes with belly-flopping on the infield dirt.
On his first steal Tuesday night, that strategy nearly backfired thanks to Cubs shortstop Javy Baez, who has quickly gained a reputation as one of the game’s best defenders.
“He was just standing there like the ball wasn’t coming,” said Turner, who dropped to his butt thinking he had the steal sewn up. “Then he put the tag on me. I felt like I had the base stolen, but it was a closer play. I’m glad I slid and still went in hard.”
As for Turner’s teammates, they’re just glad he’s all healed and back to being the blur they’ve come to know.
“He sets the table,” outfielder Michael A. Taylor said. “Every day he’s a threat on the bases and can change the game.”
For what it’s worth, Baker said he isn’t planning on reining Turner in any time soon.
“I enjoy watching him run,” Baker said. “Just run, Trea, run.”