This was supposed to be an article solely on Derek Jeter’s brilliant bunt to help give the Yankees a chance in what turned out to be a 5-4 big loss to the Orioles on Saturday night. But after first base ump Jerry Meals blew a pretty easy call at first when Mark Teixeira dove head-first and beat the DP throw (turning a 5-5 tie into a 5-4 loss for the Yankees), we’ll have to deal with that issue as well.
THE BRILLIANT BUNT
The art of the bunt long ago escaped most major leaguers, sabermetric guys and others who categorize virtually all bunts with runners on first and second as lthe same. When Jeter comes to bat, top nine, down a run and runners on first and second (nobody out), the YES announcers have a discussion about how Jeter won’t bunt, about how you don’t want to give up an out in this situation, about how you don’t play for a tie on the road.
But it never dawned on these guys that a brilliant play at this point in the game is to bunt FOR A HIT. If you lay down a beauty (Jeter did), you’ve hit the jackpot (bases loaded, nobody out). If they get you at first, your team is still set up to tie the game (understand (many won’t) that when you bunt for a hit, you are not trying to just move the runners over; but, if somebody makes a great play or you bunt poorly, you are still in a position to tie up the game; if you execute (as Jeter did), you’ve satisfied everybody).
So what happens? Jeter doesn’t square and give himself up; rather, he clearly bunts for a hit, lays down a beauty and beats it without a throw. On TV, the announcers essentially blame young Manny Machado for hesitating on the bunt somehow believing (impossible) that Machado could have thrown out Jeter at first if he (Machado) had not hesitated. Of course, the bunt was so good that nobody was throwing out Jeter on that particular bunt in that particular situation.
THE BAD CALL
What can you say? Teixeira, coming back from a calf injury, is at the plate (after a Nick Swisher forceout), first and third, one out, down by a run, ninth inning. He hits a ground ball to second, Baltimore tries to turn a 4-6-3 double play as Teixeira dives head first into first, clearly beating the throw. But first base ump Jerry Meals calls him out, an obvious mistake in real time (and a terrible mistake on replay). Game over instead of a 5-5 tie with A-Rod coming up.
Teixeira was right. He was safe. He made some comments after the game about the umps wanting to get out of there that will probably get him fined.
But if Mark Teixeira just runs through the base, instead of diving head first into the base, his entire body would have been past first and made the call a much easier one for Jerry Meals. Teixeira, in his defense, said after the game that he never dives into first but felt that he couldn’t get there by running through the base. Give him the benefit of the doubt (after all, he was injured, he busted it down the line and he WAS safe), but if he ran the last eight feet the way he ran the first 82, it says here that it would have been a much easier call for Meals, rather than hoping he can make the right call on a play (a head first slide into the base) that umpires rarely have to make (and, frankly, seem to be pre-conditioned to call the runner out when he does dive head-first into first).
Umpires, like baseball players, are creatures of habit and, when you take them out of their “comfort” zone (by diving or even sliding into first rather than running through the base), you run the risk of an ump missing a call; even an easy one.
As a result, in a two-wild–card-one-game-playoff scenario, this call may come back to haunt the Yankees.