Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

The Minor Leagues Are For Learning Lessons

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.

With Tri-Cities in the Northwest League in 1967, future big leaguer Von Joshua was 19 years old and fresh out of college, and in a game that his team led, 14-2, he beat out a bunt for his fifth hit of the game.

Two batters later he advanced to third, at which point Tri-Cities third-base coach Don LeJohn asked him what the hell he’d been thinking. Joshua had no idea what the problem might be; the only thing running through his mind was his five-hit day.

LeJohn offered a quick summary of the things a player does not do while his team is sitting on such a lead, bunting included. When Joshua came back to the dugout, veteran teammates suggested that it would be a good idea to avoid getting too comfortable during his next at-bat.

When Joshua next came up, he didn’t need his teammates’ warnings, as the other team made its intentions unmistakably clear. Abandoning all pretense of accidentally hitting Joshua, the opposing manager called one of his outfielders to the mound, simply because he was the hardest thrower on the team. The next three pitches were all aimed at Joshua’s head, at which point he charged the mound and, in his own words, “all heck broke loose.”

“I learned the hard way,” he said. “You don’t do that kind of stuff.”

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

'I Looked Up At The Board And Thought, Oh Shit'

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 looked 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.”

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

'If They Want To Hit Me, Hit Me, But I'm Going To Play To Win The Ballgame'

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.

Phil Garner: “I came up with the Oakland A’s, a great team. I was just a rookie, and we had a four- or five-run lead, a pretty good lead, in the sixth or seventh inning, and I bunted for a base hit.

“Sal Bando comes down the bench to me and says, ‘You better be ready, you’re going to get drilled next time.’

“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’

“He said, ‘You shouldn’t bunt with a lead like that.’

“I said, ‘Aren’t we still trying to win the ballgame?’

“He said, ‘Yeah, we are. But there’s the code. You don’t do that.’

“So I said, ‘What’s the difference between me trying to bunt for a hit and swinging?’

“He said, ‘Don’t argue. That’s just what it is.’

“Well, I got drilled. I got nailed. And you know what? The next time in the same situation, I’ll bunt the fucker again. If they want to hit me, hit me, but I’m going to play to win the ballgame. I did it as a player and I do it as a manager. I’m not trying to play to embarrass people, but I like winning ballgames.”

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

Ron Gardenhire Found It Quite Entertaining

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.

Ron Gardenhire: “I remember we were in Triple-A, the Tidewater Tides, playing against the Columbus Clippers for the International League championship. We were leading about 11-2 in the third or fourth inning. Davey Johnson was our manager. Columbus had one of those ball parks where runs are just scored, like Wrigley Field with the wind blowing out.

“I’m up to the plate. Gil Flores is on first, and Davey gives him the steal sign. We wanted to keep playing, because it’s not like the eighth inning in a blowout. We know runs are going to be scored.

“So Gil steals, and on the very next pitch I get drilled right in the head. They felt we should not be running up by more than six. He steals, I get drilled. They thought they were getting killed early on and we should not be running, and Davey Johnson thought it had a long way to go. I took a whack on the head because of it. It was Mets-Yankees—Triple-A, not the big leagues—but the organizational stuff might apply a little.

“There were fights everywhere on the field. Davey was fighting with Johnny Oates—even the managers were hooking. I got knocked out, and when I woke up there were brawls going on everywhere. It was quite entertaining.”

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

Dick Williams Didn't Just Want To Beat The Red Sox, He Wanted To Destroy Them

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.’ ”

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

Rookies Need To Pay Attention, Too

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: what and what not to do when your team holds a big lead late in the game.

When Marlins rookie Eric Reed tried to bunt for a base hit with his team holding an 8-0, fifth-inning lead over the Pirates in 2006, he was struggling with a .114 batting average and trying to use his speed to jump-start his offensive game. It didn’t work—Reed was thrown out—but it did manage to stir up the Pittsburgh dugout, where manager Jim Tracy and pitching coach Jim Colborn seethed.

As Reed ambled back to the bench, Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis turned to first baseman Wes Helms in the dugout and said, “He’s getting hit the next time up.” “You think so?” asked Helms. “Yep,” said Willis.

Sure enough, the next time Reed came up, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, he was drilled by Pirates reliever John Grabow—the only baserunner Grabow allowed in the span of seven batters, five of whom he struck out. The intent of the pitch was clear.

“You knew that just about every game Eric was going to try to bunt for a hit at least once,” said his teammate, Matt Herges. “But he didn’t know. He had no idea and he got drilled, and he was pretty upset about it.”

“It wasn’t a very pleasant conversation between the two sides of the field,” said Tracy. “Mr. Reed got … a little reminder of the fact that, hey, don’t do that shit. And no one on their side of the field said one word. It was done very professionally, a nice little jolt to the hip, take your base and we’re done.”

After the game, several Marlins veterans “loud-talked” the locker room, addressing no one and everyone at the same time, their message boiling down to, “No more bunting with a big lead because you’ll get drilled, and you might get us drilled.”

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

When Bad Things Happen To Good Bunters

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: what and what not to do when your team holds a big lead late in the game.

Ron Brand: “I remember an incident in 1965, we were ahead of Chicago about 6-0 in about the seventh inning. I was up with two outs and the pitcher on deck. Santo was way back, so I dropped down a bunt, and it rolled foul. Ron approached the plate just screaming at me, calling me bush, saying that I was trying to show him up. All I was trying to do was keep the pitcher from leading off the next inning in case he got into trouble on the mound.

“Bob Buhl was the Cubs pitcher, with Santo yelling at me, he came up to me and said, ‘You’d better hang loose.’ He threw at me three friggin’ times, and walked me. I said, ‘Thanks.’ Whether I bunted on them or they walked me, I got the pitcher to hit.

“I told Santo, if you don’t want me to bunt, play close. I’m not a 40-homer guy like you. If you play back, I’ll bunt.’ I think that’s fair. … Santo even agreed with me after I talked with him. I said, ‘You know, you guys have all these good players and you’re behind us in the standings. What does that tell you?’ Maybe their attitude was a little to lackadaisical.

“He came up to me afterwards and said, ‘You know, you’re dead right, we don’t play hard enough.’ I told him, ‘I didn’t want to show you up, I just wanted to get the pitcher out of the on-deck circle, that’s all.’ ”

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

'Lasorda Gave It To Me, So I Said, What The Hell'

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: what and what not to do when your team holds a big lead late in the game — starting with swinging at a 3-0 pitch.

In 1979, Davey Lopes was playing second base for the Dodgers when his team took a 7-2 lead in the fourth inning against the Reds. Cincinnati reliever Frank Pastore did little to staunch the damage, giving up two singles and three home runs in the span of the first six batters he faced, and in the process became his team’s sacrificial lamb. With no point in burning his bullpen in what was now a 12-2 blowout, Reds skipper John McNamera left Pastore in; by the time Lopes faced him in the sixth it was 14-2, there were runners on first and third and only one out. Pastore was one unhappy right-hander.

When Lopes swung at (and fouled off) a 3-0 pitch, Pastore was even less happy. And when Lopes homered on the on the pitch following that, Pastore was downright pissed. The right-hander was finally pulled, and Reds reliever Dave Tomlin was so upset that he came in from the bullpen after the inning was over to ask McNamera if Lopes would be let off the hook.

“Mac said, ‘No, we’re just going to pick our spot,’ ” recalled Reds third baseman Ray Knight in a Columbus Dispatch report. “[Tomlin] said, ‘When’s our spot?’ He said, ‘The next time [Lopes] comes up.’ ”

The next time Lopes came up was in the eighth inning, and the pitcher he faced was, not coincidentally, Dave Tomlin. Tomlin threw at him four straight times … and missed all four attempts. Lopes took first base, and that more or less ended it.

“At that time, even though I was in the big leagues, I didn’t know that rule,” said Lopes more than 25 years after the fact. “And I still don’t agree with it, because if I’d have popped the pitch up, nobody would have cared if I swung at it. … I had never, ever swung at a 3-0 pitch, but Lasorda gave it to me, so I said, what the hell.”

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

Dave Winfield Knew Better

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: what and what not to do when your team holds a big lead late in the game.

On May 10, 1993, Minnesota’s Dave Winfield pulled a Hall-of-Fame-worthy turnaround when, in the sixth inning, with the Twins sitting on a 6-1 lead, he took advantage of the deep positioning of Angels third baseman Rene Gonzales (“In left field” was how Winfield described it after the game) and bunted for a base hit. At that point, Winfield was dying to reach base, having entered the game batting .204. When he followed his bunt by stealing second, Anaheim pitchers were furious.

He came up again two innings later, this time with his team leading 8-3, and Angels pitcher Chuck Crim took the opportunity to put a 2-0 fastball underneath his chin. Perhaps it was because Winfield recognized his earlier breach of etiquette, but he limited his anger to a heated glare at the mound as he brushed himself off. “It was a purpose pitch,” said Crim a day later in the Los Angeles Times, “because what he did was uncalled for. I used to have a lot of respect for him, but after he pulled something like that, I lost a lot.”

As a bonus, Winfield found himself in an exceptional situation. He was angry, his team had a big lead and he was facing a 3-0 count. A good hack here was certain to drive the Anaheim bench up the wall. Instead, Winfield struck a conciliatory tone, watching Crim’s next pitch split the plate for a strike. Only then did he start hacking, and eventually lined the eighth pitch he saw into short left field for a single. Crim had nothing more to say and the matter was dropped. 

Don't Play Aggressively with a Big Lead, Pandemic Baseball

'I Didn’t Even Realize I Was A Triple Away — I Just Knew Not To Show The Other Team Up.'

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: what and what not to do when your team holds a big lead late in the game.

Bunting for a hit during a blowout is frowned upon, as is calling for a hit-and-run. Swinging with a 3-0 count is out, and woe be to the player who uncorks a huge swing—“from his ass,” in baseball parlance—in such a situation.

This notion of propriety was at the forefront of the mind of F.P. Santangelo one spring afternoon in 1996, his rookie season with the Montreal Expos. Against the Rockies in Coors Field, Santangelo was having the game of his short career, piling up a single, double and home run in five at-bats before he came to the plate in the top of the ninth inning. 

He poked the third pitch he saw into the right-field corner. With Dante Bichette positioned what seemed like miles away in the spacious Coors Field alley, it looked to be an easy triple, with viable potential for an inside-the-park home run. There was, however, another consideration.

The Expos were ahead 20-5 at the time, and in Santangelo’s mind that put the kibosh on digging for extra bases, especially as a young player trying to make a good impression. So the 28-year-old pulled up at second and collected himself, pleased with the latest addition to his statistically impressive day. When he looked into his dugout, however, he was startled to see manager Felipe Alou on the top step, brow furrowed, lips pursed and gaze fixed firmly upon him. With a disgusted shake of his head, Alou raised his outstretched arms, palms up, in the universal symbol of frustration. “I’m out there thinking, ‘I’m four-for-six, standing on second base,” said Santangelo. “What’d I do wrong?”

When he got back to the dugout, Alou told him.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the manager snapped at the terrified rookie. “You were one base from hitting for the cycle! Do you know how long I played this game?” (The answer to this rhetorical question was 17 years in the majors.) “Do you know how many times I hit for the cycle?” (Rhetorical answer: never.)

To compound matters, it would have been the first cycle in Coors Field history.

“He was pissed,” said Santangelo of the manager. “I didn’t even realize I was a triple away. I just knew not to show the other team up.”

For more nuanced baseball minds (such as, say, Alou) it would have been perfectly appropriate for Santangelo to have trotted into third. For one thing, there was achievement on the line (a cycle), as well as the notion that even by the unwritten rules, nonagressive baserunning—the act of taking a base that is by all rights, yours—is perfectly acceptable. Without a play in the offing, third base was Santangelo’s for the taking.

Decades later, he’s still thinking about why he didn’t.