In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. Today’s theme: Part 2 of what and what not to do when your team holds a big lead late in the game.
Dick Williams took over the Red Sox in 1967 as a 38-year-old rookie manager, and guided a club that was coming off of back-to-back ninth-place finishes to the World Series. Still, amid acrimony and injuries to two key starting pitchers, Williams was fired before he could complete his third season—something about which he harbored resentment for years. Once Williams assumed managerial duties for other teams, he didn’t just want to beat the Red Sox, he wanted to destroy them.
Williams bunted whenever he could to advance runners into scoring position, even when games were well in hand. His baserunners tagged up from second on fly balls, even when leads made such tactics unnecessary. And he squeezed.
If stealing second base with a big lead is enough to make an opponent’s head spin, squeezing is enough to blow it clean off his neck. There is no surer we’re-going-to-pull-out-every-last-calculated-measure-in-our-playbook-to-push-another-run-across statement in the game.
Williams took over the Angels in 1974. During a game against Boston the following season, his club used a hit, a walk and an error to extend its lead to 6-2 in the eighth inning. The manager knew just what to do. With runners on second and third and second baseman Jerry Remy at the plate, Williams called for a squeeze that extended the Angels’ lead even further. “You do what the manager says,” said Remy, “but I knew it was the wrong thing to do.”
The next day, Boston pitcher Roger Moret threw at Remy with the first pitch of every at-bat, a subtle message that the squeeze had not been appreciated. Fortunately for Remy, all four pitches missed. “After the game, [Williams] said to me, ‘I guess I got you thrown at,’ ” said Remy. “I said, ‘I guess you did.’ ”