Bunt appropriately, Foreign players, WBC

The Most Appropriate Inappropriate Bunt Ever Sparks WBC Brawl

WBC brawlLuis Cruz thought he understood baseball’s unwritten rules. So did Arnold Leon. The former, playing third base for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, responded to a bunt by Canadian catcher Chris Robinson—whose team held a six-run, ninth-inning lead on Saturday—by gesturing for his pitcher to drill the next batter. Leon, the pitcher, did just that.

Within moments, punches were flying and Alfredo Aceves had Satan in his eyes. (Watch the prelude here. Watch the main event below.)

Cruz, however, did not understand the unwritten rules, nor did anyone else on Team Mexico who supported Leon’s retaliation. Because winning trumps any possible Code violation, the WBC’s consideration of run differential matters. The more a team scores, the more likely it is to advance, and, facing the possibility of a three-way tie with the U.S. and Mexico, Canada needed every run it could get. (Also consideration-worthy: Canada was knocked out of the 2006 tournament when coming out on the wrong side of a run-differential tiebreaker.)

It’s undoubtedly tough for players steeped in a certain way of approaching the game—who may well have embraced the Code throughout their entire professional lives—to ignore what is likely second-nature, but there is little excuse for not knowing the rules by which one is playing.

Plate ump Brian Gorman warned both benches after Leon’s first two pitches to Rene Tosoni, the batter following Robinson, sailed inside. On the verge of elimination, however, Leon opted for pride above victory, and drilled Tosoni in the back. Benches emptied, with the brawl starting when Cruz threw a punch at Canada’s Scott Mathieson.

If there is irony in this situation, it is that players coming out of Latin leagues have long been accused of possessing less-than-sufficient understanding of the unwritten rules. This is generally in respect to flair, however—reaction to making a play, not the play itself. Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista—who has a toe in each pool, playing in Toronto and hailing from the Dominican Republic—backed this up, saying from spring training camp in Florida that the structure of the WBC is not enough to merit such strategy.

“I believe in the unwritten rules of the game,” he said in a Toronto Star report. “They should be respected. It’s a code amongst players and everybody who plays baseball at a level higher than Little League knows what it is and there’s no excuse.”

Except that there is an excuse. Ultimately, Canada won both a moral victory and an actual one, its 10-3 win eliminating Mexico from the tournament. It’s fair to question, as Canadian manager Ernie Whitt did after the game, the wisdom of implementing a run-differential system that runs counter to an ingrained facet of baseball, but that’s a discussion for the future.

As long as the WBC—or any other professional baseball outfit—has rules, players can not be knocked for trying to best position their teams to succeed within them.

Update, 3-11: Who knows if or how much the WBC had to do with it, but Leon, a 24-year-old who has never pitched in the big leagues, was just demoted to minors by the A’s.

Bunt appropriately, Cheating, Chris Perez, Cleveland Indians, Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Torii Hunter

Kendrick Bunts, Cleveland Complains, Angels Win

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.

Verdict: Kendrick

  • 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.

Verdict: Kendrick

  • 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.

Verdict: Kendrick

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.

* * *

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.

– Jason