Two weeks ago, he caught considerable heat (much of it from New Yorkers) when he called out Alex Rodriguez for running across the mound during a game in Oakland. Yesterday, another potential violation against him reared its head when Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria tried to wile his way aboard with a drag bunt in the fifth inning. The ball rolled foul, but had Longoria reached, he would have been the first—and, ultimately, only—baserunner Braden allowed on the day, a perfect game spoiled.
This piece of the Code is similar to the one prohibiting all forms of aggressive baserunning (including stolen bases and tagging up on fly balls)—it’s valid only in the later innings of blowout games.
In Longoria’s case, he was on the cusp of both, in seriously gray area. Paying attention to a no-hitter isn’t even a consideration through four innings; starting in the fifth, the feat takes on increasing importance with each frame.
Similarly, the four runs by which the A’s led at the time of the bunt attempt can hardly be considered insurmountable, although Braden’s superlative dominance must be considered when gauging the stoutness of their lead.
To help figure this out, let’s look at some examples.
On one hand: Ben Zobrist broke up Jarrod Washburn’s no-hit attempt in 2006 with a sixth-inning bunt—a tactic that, since it came relatively early in a two-run game, bothered neither Washburn nor his manager, Mike Hargrove.
“If it was the eighth or ninth, maybe that would have rubbed me the wrong way,” Washburn told the Tacoma News Tribune. “But bunting is just part of the game, and he was just trying to make something happen.”
On the other hand: Anaheim rookie Devon White tried to break up Danny Jackson’s 1986 no-hit attempt with a bunt single in the eighth inning. The fact that it was a 2-0 game hardly mattered to Jackson. The bunt went foul, and Jackson threw his next pitch chin-high, forcing White into a back-pedaling stumble.
“The first hit of a no-hitter is not a bunt,” said Jackson in the Orange County Register. “I don’t know how long he’s been around, but he’s got to go down.”
The most famous instance of this maneuver, of course, was Ben Davis’s bunt to break up Curt Schilling’s perfect game in 2001. In that case, Davis had several strikes against him:
- He was the Padres’ backup catcher.
- Bunting was not part of his repertoire.
- He did it in the eighth inning.
- He laid down a perfectly atrocious, but very lucky, bunt.
- He did it against an iconic and outspoken pitcher, Curt Schilling; a knowledgeable and outspoken manager, Bob Brenly; and an Arizona team that would go on to with the World Series.
None of it mattered, of course. It was a 2-0 game, and Davis brought the tying run to the plate for the first time since the Diamondbacks scored their second run. As much as the members of Arizona’s clubhouse wanted to rip into Davis for his audacity, the defense for his action was unimpeachable.
Even Brenly, Davis’ most outspoken critic, eventually came around and admitted that much of his bluster was merely a message to Schilling that his manager had his back.
For Longoria, the case for bunting was clear.
“He had everybody off-balance,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “I figured I’d try to take the opportunity there, maybe it stays fair and we get a runner on. At that point, you’re really not thinking about the guy’s perfect game or no-hitter, you’re just trying to get back into the game. It was a manageable game. Get somebody on and try and score.”
“If you want to prohibit it, just play your third baseman in,” added Rays manager Joe Maddon. “Both sides have the ability to do whatever they want. I believe if you’re trying to beat the other team and that’s your best way to do it then you do it.”
Ultimately, of course, the only opinion that matters here is that of the guy at the business end of the potential violation. So what did Braden think?
No big deal, he told XM Radio after the game, echoing every sentiment above about close scores meriting all sorts of efforts on behalf of the offense.
Give him this much: the guy knows his Code book.