There are runners on 1st and 2nd with 2 outs in the 9th inning in game 1 of a best-of-three playoff series. The offense is trailing by 4 and have their best hitter up to bat. The infield is back all around and the outfielders are playing a few steps deeper than normal. The defense has the closer in the game and are looking to slam the door.
The closer gets his sign, comes set, takes a deep breath and checks the runners. After a moment of pause, he delivers the pitch. Much to everyone’s surprise, the batter, who is leading his team in virtually every offensive category including home runs, drops a bunt down the third base line. Playing far back on the dirt, the third baseman knows he will have no chance. It’s up to the pitcher to make the play, and even if he gets to the ball and fields it cleanly, it’s a long shot.
The pitcher tries to close on the ball, but it’s close to the line and he can’t get there. It roles past his outstretch glove and towards the crashing third baseman. It comes to a complete stop about 2/3 of the way to third before the third baseman finally picks it up. The bases are loaded and the tying run is coming to the plate.
What Went Wrong:
You may be thinking to yourself, “What was he doing laying a bunt down?!? That won’t score any runs.” You’re right, that play is unlikely to score any runs, but was it in poor judgment for the best power hitter on the team to lay a bunt down? No, because it achieved the ultimate goal—bringing the tying run to the plate.
You may hear announcers emphasize, “They’ve got the tying run coming to the plate.” This is important because it means on one swing, the game can be tied. In the 9th inning, the trailing team is concerned with scoring the tying run and extending the game, first and foremost. To do that, the tying run must first get to the plate. Again, it’s all about understanding what runs matter. Losing a playoff game 4-3 is no better than losing 4-0 as far as team results are concerned. So in this scenario, since a 3-run homer doesn’t tie the game, it’s all about getting the tying run to the plate.
With the defense playing back, the batter simply has to execute a decent bunt to extend the game and bring the tying run to bat. This is in his control, and he does it to perfection. It’s important to note that when bunting for a hit in a situation like this, you want to give yourself a margin for error. Before laying the bunt down, the batter reminds himself “just fair or foul”. This means he will try to put the ball close to the foul line and miss into foul territory instead of towards the pitcher (the one defender who can make a play to get him out). Taking the easy hit here and giving the team a chance to tie the game is a heads-up play, it’s also another reason all hitters should know how to bunt. The more offensive weapons you have, the more difficult you are to defend.