Strategy sacrifices shot to score

INSIDE PITCH

April 25, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

What we saw yesterday was yet another example of how the sacrifice bunt not only giveth, but also taketh away. And somewhere in Florida, if he watched highlights of the Orioles' 7-6 loss to the Seattle Mariners, Earl Weaver probably was wondering what baseball has come to since he departed.

When to bunt was never much of a question with Weaver, but it has haunted many major-league managers for a good part of the past century. Within eight days, it has been an asset and a curse for the Orioles.

For the second time in that span, manager Johnny Oates played for a tie in the eighth inning. The first time he tried the maneuver, going against the book on the road, Mike Devereaux perfectly executed the sacrifice -- and the Orioles went on to score four runs that triggered a 6-4 win.

The theory that says if you play for one run, that's usually what you get didn't hold up April 16 -- and it didn't yesterday either. After a three-run homer by Ken Griffey had given the Mariners the lead, Oates opted to have his No. 4 and No. 5 hitters attempt sacrifice bunts after Rafael Palmeiro led off with a single.

The first move actually worked too much to perfection when Cal Ripken put the ball squarely on the third base line. The Mariners cooperated by letting it roll, rather than picking it up and taking the out the Orioles were trying to give them.

The fact that Ripken has grounded into eight double plays (and had done so in the fifth inning) influenced Oates' decision. "That had something to do with it," he said.

And when the bunt went for a hit, Oates said he had no choice but to try the tactic again, even though his lineup was depleted by the absence of Harold Baines, Mike Devereaux and Chris Sabo.

"You've got to bunt there [with runners on first and second and nobody out]," said Oates. "Why bunt a man to second if you're not going to bunt him to third when the double play is still in order?"

But the inning fell apart in the space of two pitches. Hoiles fouled off one and bunted through the other -- and Seattle catcher Dan Wilson alertly made a perfect throw to pick Palmeiro off second base. The next pitch was a called third strike, and an inning that started with promise abruptly turned into a disaster.

Advancing runners via the sacrifice is not a forte of Ripken or Hoiles, though the former is an adept bunter. It was a situation where the strategy didn't fit the personnel. In playing for the tie, Oates felt the risk of a double play outweighed the possibility of scoring the needed run.

As it turned out, the Orioles got neither, and the Mariners escaped with an ugly win.

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