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.
On Aug. 13, 1997, Cleveland took a 4-1 lead over the Tigers into the eighth inning, when three singles and an error over the span of the inning’s first four batters extended the lead to 6-1. The problem, as pertained to the Indians, was that both runs had scored on one play, during which their manager, Mike Hargrove, had been paying attention to something else and thought that only one had scored.
Thinking his team’s lead was still only four, he had the next batter, Omar Vizquel, squeeze in another run. The Tigers just about lost their minds, left fielder Phil Nevin screaming into the dugout about being disrespected.
“I thought, wait a minute, what is he so upset about?” said Hargrove, looking back. Then he noticed Tigers manager Buddy Bell, a good friend, staring daggers at him. “So I look up at the board and thought, oh shit,” said Hargrove. “I was just intent on scoring as many runs as we could to put the game away, and I missed a run.”
Hargrove felt fine about playing hard for a five-run lead, even late in the game, which put him beyond the reach of a grand slam. Once that lead was achieved, he backed off of aggressive tactics.
Except that he’d called for a squeeze while his team led, 6-1.
“I went to talk to Buddy after the game, and then I talked to Phil Nevin,” Hargrove said. “I told Phil, ‘I’m not that way. I don’t have the reputation of being somebody like that. And I’m certainly not going to take one of my very best friends and rub his face in it. Buddy understood, and Phil did, as well.”