Last week, Anaheim’s Howie Kendrick stirred up some emotions with a two-out, ninth inning bunt that scored Torii Hunter from third base with the game’s winning run.
It came on the first pitch thrown by Indians reliever Chris Perez, who after the game was vocal in his displeasure.
“It was a bad baseball play that happened to work out,” he told MLB.com. “I don’t want to say it was bush league, but you never see that. Ninety-nine percent of hitters in that situation would rather win the game with a hit, not a bunt. It was a stupid play that just happened to work.”
Au contraire, Mr. Perez—it was a smart play that happened to work.
Let’s examine some corollaries between Kendrick’s bunt and another famous bunt that caught some heat: Ben Davis’ bunt that broke up Curt Schilling’s perfect game in 2001.
- Speed was not remotely part of Davis’ game. “For a backup catcher (like Davis) who had never bunted for a base hit before in his life to do it, I thought that was unnecessary to begin with, and disrespectful, to top it off,” said then-Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly.
- Kendrick, while not necessarily a burner, is known to steal a base should the situation present itself. Bunting for hits is within his accepted repertoire.
- Davis got lucky with a bad bunt that landed in a good place. “He bunted as bad a ball as you can bunt, to the most perfect spot in the inﬁeld to bunt it. . . .” said Schilling. “I never said it was a horses–t play. I thought it was a horses–t bunt.”
- Kendrick’s effort was a thing of beauty, placed in an ideal spot on the right side of the diamond. The Indians had no chance.
- Davis’ bunt spoiled a significant personal achievement.
- For Kendrick, there was nothing on the line save for the most important thing on any baseball diamond: a victory.
Ultimately—and no matter how you feel about either incident—both Davis and Kendrick must be exonerated for the simple fact that their at-bats mattered.
Davis came to the plate in a 2-0 game; as a baserunner, he brought the tying run to the plate for the first time since Arizona scored its second run. Kendrick’s case was even more stark: he literally won the game with his effort.
And make no mistake, Chris Perez—that was an effort. Sure, it was brains over brawn, but it also took cunning and execution.
Had it been an 8-0 type blowout, Perez would have a legitimate complaint. As it is, if there’s any certainty to be had here, it’s that Perez wouldn’t have said a thing had one of his teammates won the game in exactly the same fashion.
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Earlier in the inning, Hunter exposed another rule: If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. His was perhaps the lowest-grade cheating in the unwritten rulebook, along the lines of an outfielder popping up, glove raised, acting like he caught a ball that he clearly knows he trapped.
In Hunter’s case, he hit a ball into the right-field corner, where Shin-Soo Choo gathered it and threw it to second in time to catch the sliding Hunter. Hunter knew he was out. From his vantage point, even Choo probably knew that he got his man.
Second-base umpire Paul Schrieber, however, called Hunter safe, and he eventually scored the winning run.
When asked after the game whether or not he should have been called out, Hunter rolled his eyes and said, “I’m not going to answer that. He said I was safe, so I was safe.”
He did precisely what he should have done. In big league baseball, that falls within the definition of honesty.