April 26, 2004
To Bunt or Not To Bunt - That is the Question...
My apologies to William Shakespeare, but that was the question of the day yesterday in Nashville. Not once, but twice, the decision regarding a simple tap of the baseball to advance two base runners took center stage in the Music City.
Belmont and Florida Atlantic were up with the birds Sunday morning. We were desperately searching for good weather and the improbable chance to finish our three game series. The day before, Coach Jarvis and his ground crew did a great job in the face of enough rain to cause the animals to pair off and head for the Ark. Despite the conditions, we had managed to play two games on Saturday with FAU winning the first 1-0 and Belmont taking the nightcap 5-2.
When we left the park Saturday night, I told our players that we were 99% sure to be heading for the airport at 7:45 AM the next day. The weather people were predicting severe thunderstorms and flooding to commence overnight and throughout the day on Sunday. We had an 11:00 AM flight and exams waiting. It looked as if we would be there for both.
At 6:40 AM I opened the shades of my hotel room and looked out at a dry parking lot. The phone rang. It was Coach Jarvis. Everything was good at the field, it wasn't raining, and he asked me to bring him a bagel.
We immediately implemented the contingency plan devised Saturday night.
Catcher Rob Orton had already taken off on a 6 AM flight. He had a final that couldn't be rescheduled. We sent eight people to the airport and our original flight home. We would play without them so there would be fewer tickets to be changed later. I grabbed a bag of bagels from the restaurant and we gave the bus driver our new destination- Shelby Park...and step on it!
The coaches and umpires set an 11:45 AM curfew on the game. We agreed that no inning would start after that time. The next flight we wanted to make was at 2:00 PM.
Things looked good as Chris Saxton was throwing well in his first start of the season. But in the sixth Belmont rallied and we were suddenly down two runs as the clock kept ticking. I hate curfews, especially when we're losing.
Now ...back to Shakespeare.
We put the first two men on base in the seventh. Do I bunt Alex Fonseca to advance the tying run to second base? Does a tie help us if the game is to be stopped in 45 minutes? Should you ever bunt to tie on the road? I was asking myself these questions aloud as I paced the dugout. Fons was swinging a hot bat, and a tie is like kissing your sister.
Fons looked at me for a sign and I mouthed "We're not bunting...swing away." Alex took a rip and drilled the first pitch over the leftfield fence. OK, barely over the fence, but who cares? We're up 8-7. I look at my watch trying to will it to run faster!
At 11:20 CDT we start the ninth inning still leading by one run. Belmont will get their last time at bat. Why didn't I say 11:15 for a curfew?
Warpool and Soukop singled to start the bottom of the ninth. The tying and winning runs were on for the Bruins. It was decision time again.
Third baseman Evan Brannon was playing deep and to the foul line, guarding against the double. I moved him up to the bag, but still on the line. Coach Mac asked me if I thought they were going to bunt. I didn't think so, but I didn't want to invite the bunt by playing deep.
To bunt or not to bunt was the question for Coach Jarvis. The book says bunt. Move the tying and winning runs into scoring position. Force the other coach to decide whether to load the bases and play back for two, load the bases and play up for the force at home, or bring the infield in and pray for a pop up or strikeout!
The Belmont boys had been running at will on the bases all weekend. They even send guys who don't really look like base stealers. They play an aggressive style of baseball.
This decision was probably made the day they committed to this style of play.
Josh Brummett stepped in the box. Mike Crotta came set and fired a fastball home. Warpool broke for third as Soukop took off towards second. They're not bunting.
Brummett pulled a line drive toward third base as Evan Brannon reached down and gloved it inches from the dirt. He tried to tag third and then Warpool. Evan whipped a throw to Hutton at second for the second out. Hutton threw to Fiorentino at first for a game ending triple play.
It seemed our entire depleted dugout was standing at third as those throws were made. I never saw an out call on the line drive. I ran to the plate ump and asked, 'That's it right? Triple Play right? We're done?" "You're done", he told me, "Go catch your plane."
As a coach you get paid to do a lot of things. One of them is to bunt, swing, or run. We each made our choice. I don't think either would change his decision.
The saga continued as we raced to the airport, commandeered the men's room and changed out of our uniforms while Coach Mac got the first group on a 12:30 flight. George Roig charmed a gate agent and another group was sent out at 3:30. The last bunch took off at 6:30 and finally returned to Boca for a few hours sleep before exams today.
They say it's a game of inches. You'll get no argument here. But it's also a game of people and decisions. The decisions are made and the people make plays. That's what makes it interesting after all these years. KC