During yesterday’s game between the Jays and Phillies, Jays manager Cito Gaston made what in my opinion are a couple of questionable decisions.
The first I will just mention in passing. The Jays were down 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and the bases loaded. Cito elected to remove OF Jose Bautista (.754 OPS) in favour of pinch hitter Russ Adams (.619 OPS). Anyone who has followed the Jays over the last few years knows that he has one of the worst sticks in the league. After predictably popping out to third base, he was also forced to enter the game in left field, where he has a grand total of 13 innings played in the majors. Mind-boggling decision by Cito.
The point I want to focus on occurred in the bottom of the ninth, and is at the heart of the small ball debate. I will preface this by saying that I am not a small ball fan, and would build my team with a couple of on-base machines and a couple of sluggers to drive them in. I would always play for the big inning and would not give away precious outs with bunts or stolen bases. However, like every game plan, there is an exception, and this is it. The Jays got their first two batters on to begin the ninth inning (score is still 5-4 Phillies) against closer Brad Lidge, bringing Aaron Hill to the dish. This situation begs for a bunt. A successful bunt not only gives you two chances to win the game with a base hit, but also tie it with a sacrifice fly while keeping you out of the double play.
Instead, Hill swings away. I know Hill leads the AL in total bases this year and already had two home runs that afternoon, but they were against soft-tossing lefty Jamie Moyer, not power closer Lidge. The rest of the inning played out like this. Hill pops out. John MacDonald gets picked off at second and Vernon Wells grounds out. The rally is dead and the game is over just like that. Normally in a baseball game you never play for a run or two, but always play the numbers and go for the big inning. However, in this situation the Jays only needed two runs to win the game. Had Hill laid down a sacrifice bunt, the Phillies most likely would have walked Wells (who is terrible) and pitched to base-hit machine Scott Rolen (.333 batting average). Even if he did not get the job done, they would still have an opportunity to win it with Adam Lind, who is third in the AL in total bases.
I have a ton of respect for Cito as a manager, and his free-swinging ways really helped turn around the Jays after he replaced micro-manager John Gibbons. However, there are certain situations where you have to break the mould and play according to the situation. I hope I did not sound too much like Harold Reynolds there.