Saturday, April 15, 2006

A Bad Feeling...

Here's a turning point for a game for you.

Bottom of the 8th, Mariano Rivera comes in and shuts the door on the Twins, who're down 5-4 and had a man on first. Mariano gets Shannon Stewart to tap into a 6-3 double play. Everything's good.

Then, in the top of the ninth, Johnny Damon draws a leadoff walk against Twins' phenom Francisco Liriano. That brings the Captain to the plate, and in comes, Juan Rincon, he of the steroid bust last year.

Rincon pitches out, then throws another ball to Jeter, as Damon steals second base. So Damon's in scoring position, with no outs; Jeter's got a 2-0 count; and yeah, Jeter's also 3-3 with a walk on the day.

So naturally, the Captain bunts Damon over to third.

Sometimes a bad move makes you curse, or throw your remote at the TV. This...astounding moment hit me like a sucker shot to the gut. I couldn't even process what happened, it was so surprising. And right then, the feeling struck me, they're going to lose this game.

Sheffield came up, almost lost his at bat early on when a pop-up hit a speaker in the Metrodome and went foul. Then the at bat took on an epic feel, as Sheffield fouled off pitch after pitch after pitch, with the YES crew (who, indeed, had praised the Captain's decision to give himself up prior to this at bat) throwing silly affirmations at Sheff like "you know, usually in this kind of situation, the longer the at bat goes, the more advantage to the batter" and "what's important is that these foul balls have given Sheffield a chance to get his timing down against Rincon." Then, on the 14th pitch of the at-bat, Sheffield whiffed.

Two outs, the advantage of moving Damon to third completely gone, Alex Rodriguez at the plate. No runs score.

Now, I know that the decision to bunt had nothing to do with the Yanks' failings--and the Twins' hard work--in the bottom of the ninth. Luis Castillo deserves a ton of credit for his Baltimore-shop base hit (hat tip to the ump who called the 2-2 pitch a ball). Joe Mauer deserves a ton of credit for his at bat against Rivera--and Hideki Matsui deserves a tongue-lashing for throwing to the wrong base, and allowing Mauer to go to second. Rivera deserves a ton of credit for masterful back-to-back strikeouts of ex-Yank Rondell White and Torii Hunter, and for (it looked to me) breaking Morneau's bat on the final pitch of the game (a blooper past Cano).

But back to Jeter's bunt. I don't know how that possibly makes sense to anyone. Want to stay out of the double play? Damon was already on second, and he's the fastest guy on the team, able to score on a single. Maybe Jeter's not swinging the bat well? He was 3-3, batting in a great hitter's count. Forget run expectation charts and all that stathead stuff--how is it a good baseball play to not even make Rincon throw Jeter a strike before letting him off the hook for that at-bat.

The Yanks' six sacrifice bunts so far this season lead the American League. This is an offense that was supposed to score 1,000 runs in 2006, which just leaves me scratching my head, and thinking that tonight's game could have, and should have, been won.

1 comment:

Brother Joe said...

I didn't see the game, but the thing where Jeter lays down bunts has got to stop, and right now. That may be the worst sacrifice of the year.