Yesterday the Tigers put the game out of reach early with a monstrous 9 run 2nd inning. But that inning almost didn’t happen. In fact, Jim Leyland tried to keep that inning from happening. Here is what transpired:
1. Craig Monroe led off the inning with a double down the line.
2. Brandon Inge was called on to sacrifice bunt. Essentially giving away an out to advance Monroe to 3rd, or playing for 1 run rather than for runs. Fortunately for the Tigers Brandon took the first pitch, and was drilled by the 2nd. Now there are runners on 1st and 2nd.
3. Omar Infante is now called on to sacrifice bunt, giving up an out to move runners into scoring position in the 2nd inning. Infante got the bunt down, but the Royals couldn’t field it cleanly and everyone was safe.
Now with the bases loaded the bunt was taken out of the equation. For the rest of the inning the Royals would be forced to earn their outs. In doing so the Tigers managed to push 9 runs across.
Keep in mind that the Royals were lucky to escape the first inning without any damage. The Tigers loaded the bases, and Runelvys Hernandez was forced to throw 29 pitches. Yet the Tigers were willing to only make him throw 4 pitches to the first 3 hitters of the 2nd inning while actively trying to make an easy out.
There are several reasons I bring this up, and none are to rain on the awesome-ness that was the sealing of the Tigers first playoff date in 19 years.
First, I’m a stat guy and it is my duty to point out foolish use of the sacrifice bunt. If you need one run late in the game, it doesn’t bother me. If you have a very tough pitcher against a very weak hitter in a pitcher’s duel it doesn’t bother me. But in the 2nd inning, in a scoreless game, against a pitcher with an ERA over 6, when that pitcher struggled in the 1st inning, I say make the other team earn their outs.
Second, while I think this was clearly a tactical mistake by Leyland, the team did go on to score 9 runs. Maybe if Inge and Infante are hitting away they hit into outs. We’ll never know. What it does is highlight how difficult it is to assign wins or blame losses on managers. Here was an instance of what I consider to be poor managing and yet the team won in a blow out.
I do think that Leyland gives away too many outs with sacrifices and hit and runs. But at the same time pinning losses on him is nearly impossible to do.