Playing for tie is new road

INSIDE PITCH

June 16, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

The age of specialization has done even more than turn relief pitchers into baseball's version of place-kickers. In addition to dictating a steady flow of almost automatic late-inning moves, it also is changing one of the game's longest standing strategies.

"Play to tie at home and win on the road" has been a standard in the managerial handbook since Abner Doubleday said "let's play ball." But with the advent of the closer, the reliever who specializes in save situations, that chapter of the book is gradually being rewritten.

Now, more and more managers are willing to play for a tie on the road in the late innings because it often puts the home team at a disadvantage. A tie game effectively removes a team's closer from consideration since only in the rarest of instances will a manager risk using his ace in such situations.

In each of the past two nights Yankees manager Buck Showalter has gone against the "book," playing for a tie in the eighth inning last night and in the ninth Monday. And both times, while playing for one run, the Yankees scored twice.

When pinch hitter Daryl Boston singled to lead off the ninth inning with Lee Smith trying to protect a 3-2 lead two nights ago, Showalter called on Pat Kelly to execute a sacrifice bunt. He gave up an out to get the tying run into scoring position, even though the Orioles would have the last chance to win the game.

But in that situation, Showalter was willing to take the gamble, knowing that Smith would not be a factor beyond the ninth inning. "That certainly entered into it," Showalter said later.

With Smith, and every other bona fide closer, restricted to no more than one inning, the odds are better playing for a tie than the win. Last night, Showalter took the strategy one step, and one inning, further.

He used the bunt to set up the tying run in the eighth, this time to keep Smith out, rather than chase him out of the game. In the situation he was in, Showalter was willing to take his chances in a tie game, even if it meant going extra innings.

The way the game is played now, the visiting team has a decided advantage with the score tied in the late innings because the home team, in effect, has lost the use of its closer, who only works with a lead.

When you play for one run, the popular theory is that's all you get. But when you get more, especially under those circumstances, you usually get a win.

The Orioles got a win in Texas earlier in the year while playing for a tie in the eighth inning. That same strategy worked almost to perfection for Showalter the past two games, but he got only one win.

The Yankees played for one run and got two in the eighth inning last night, but twice as much wasn't enough. The only reason Smith didn't make the scene in the ninth was because the Orioles answered the Yankees with five runs in the bottom of the eighth to render all of the strategic ploys meaningless.

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