The situation: Runners on first and second, no outs, bottom of the eighth inning. Cardinals trail, 4-1, with the No. 9 spot in the order coming up.
The decision: Jon Jay pinch-hits for Chris Carpenter, and Jay puts down a bunt.
The outcome: Jay sacrifices the runners over to second and third. However, the next batter, Skip Schumaker, hits into a 3-2 double play, and the inning is over with no runs.
The analysis: TLR said after the game that this actually wasn’t a sacrifice attempt. Instead, it was a try at a bunt for a base hit. But he also said, essentially, that the fallback is a sacrifice — i.e., if it goes for a hit, great, but if not, it’s a sacrifice.
The idea is, if Jay gets a hit, fantastic. Bases loaded, top of the order, chance to break the inning open. If he doesn’t, you’ve moved the runners over to where a single brings in two runs. Also, and TLR said this, one advantage of a sacrifice is that it all but assures that at least one of the Cards’ thumpers will hit. The problem is that the double play eliminated that possibility.
It still seems a lot like a question of playing for one or two runs versus playing for the big inning, though.
The comment: “That was a base-hit bunt. I thought it was there. Hopefully it would have ensured that one of our big boppers comes to bat with the tying run, at least. Didn’t work out that way.” — TLR
My verdict: I still don’t like it. The fact that it was an attempt at a hit dilutes some of my irritation at the play, but not all of it. Because even if it’s nominally an attempt at a hit, when you admit up front that at worstit plays as a sacrifice, you’re thinking sacrifice to some extent. With Jay hitting well, and some other candidates on the bench who might come up with a big hit, it’s clear that you’re not playing for the big inning.
And with a three-run deficit and six outs remaining, you have to play for the big inning. You have to take your chance now, to get all three of those runs in one shot. You don’t get big innings by giving away outs.
It’s a bit like the hit-and-run, which is also not one of my favorite plays — it’s an attempt to have it both ways. In this case, you want a base hit, commit to trying to get a base hit. Let Jay swing away, or call on Stavinoha or Mather. If you want a hit, try to get a hit — and leave yourself the possibility of extra bases, or the run scoring on a hit.
If you want to sacrifice, then sacrifice. By all means, I am vehemently opposed to sacrificing there, but if that’s the goal, then do it.