Ben Rice’s weird defensive blunder in Toronto tops Rizzo’s glove gaffes

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In response to Anthony Rizzo’s absence, the New York Yankees have promoted rookie Ben Rice to handle first base duties. They expected him to put an end to Rizzo’s defensive missteps at the first base. However, what the Yankees rookie first baseman did in the first innings at Rogers Center on Thursday went down in the team annals as one of the weirdest defensive gaffes.

In the first inning, with the Blue Jays leading 1-0 and runners on second and third, a soft ground ball from Justin Turner trickled up the first baseline. Ben Rice opted to let the ball roll, hoping it would veer foul. Unfortunately, it struck the base, allowing Turner to reach first safely and intensifying pressure on starting pitcher Carlos Rodon.

Manager Aaron Boone acknowledged that Ben Rice’s lack of experience may have played a role in a pivotal play during Thursday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. But the error, a clear mistake that should have been easily avoided, raises questions about Ben Rice’s casual mentality during a vital game.

Reflecting on the play post-game, Boone noted the complexity of the situation but suggested that Ben Rice should have seized the opportunity to secure the out by fielding the ball promptly. The Yankees manager expressed confidence that the rookie first baseman would glean valuable lessons from the experience and avoid repeating such errors in the future.

“Probably inexperience over there hurt him but it’s one of those plays that will probably never happen to him again,” he said following the Yankees’ 9-2 loss to the Blue Jays. “In the end, you probably got to pick it up but you know the run is scoring there and it’s spinning and if you think it’s going foul, it’s a feel…it’s just a weird play. But probably one he should have picked up and taken the out.”

Yankees’ Ben Rice owns up to the defensive mistake

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Ben Rice concurred with Boone’s assessment, acknowledging that he misjudged the ball’s trajectory and should have taken a more proactive approach in handling the play.

“Those are weird plays. I’ve seen my fair share of those. Usually, those do stay fair, but I thought it was going to start kicking past the line and it didn’t,” the Yankees’ rookie first baseman conceded. “I probably should have come and gotten it, but it is what it is.”

This incident underscores the steep learning curve rookies face as they transition to major league play, particularly when stepping in for seasoned veterans like Rizzo, whose impact spans beyond hitting to encompass critical defensive contributions.

The defensive error by Ben Rice punctuated the game in the first inning, potentially contributing to the Blue Jays’ early 5-0 advantage.

Ben Rice, a 25-year-old previously a catcher, has minimal experience at first base, having played just 55 games in the minors. Despite his limited exposure, manager Aaron Boone commended the player’s defensive efforts over his nine major league appearances, highlighting his ability to hold his ground in the position.

Yankees' Ben Rice reacts after committing a defensive error at first base in Toronto on June 27, 2024.

Acknowledging the steep learning curve at first base in the majors, Ben Rice emphasized the speed of the game, reading batted balls, and positioning as areas where he aims to improve. He expressed satisfaction with his progress thus far and a commitment to ongoing development.

“Increasingly comfortable each game. The more in-game reps, the better,” the rookie said. “It’s the learning process and I’m going to keep improving as much as I can. I like the improvements that I’ve made and I’m going to continue to learn.”

With Anthony Rizzo sidelined for an extended period, Ben Rice is set to continue gaining crucial game-time experience at first base for the Yankees. Both Boone and Rice viewed Thursday’s contentious play as a teachable moment rather than a defining setback in the rookie’s journey.

The defensive misstep raises questions as the Yankees look to Ben Rice to provide stability at first base during Rizzo’s absence.

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