Cautious strategy: you get what you play for

INSIDE PITCH

June 29, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

When you play for one run, that's usually what you get.

No, that's not an original "Inside Pitch" theory. It's borrowed from the philosophy of a certain fiery little former manager of the Orioles who preferred to set up three-run homers.

More often than not it proves correct, though Milwaukee manager Phil Garner broke even the past two days when an error provided him a bonus run in the first inning yesterday. What made Garner's strategy a little curious was that he used it in the first inning in each of the past two games.

With the two pitching aces working yesterday, Ricky Bones for the Brewers and Mike Mussina for the Orioles, playing for an early run was more plausible than it was the day

before. But there's always a risk involved when strategy is mapped before the game.

Most starting pitchers are shakiest in the early innings (and Mussina certainly fits that description), so when you give away an out you never know if you're wasting your best chance to break the game open. That very well might have happened to the Brewers.

Tuesday night, the first two hitters reached base against an obviously nervous John DeSilva, who was making his first major-league start. In that situation, Garner opted to have his leading hitter, Kevin Seitzer (.347), lay down a sacrifice bunt.

A ground ball and a fly ball later, the Brewers had the tying run, but the Orioles had escaped a potentially dangerous situation. In a similar situation four innings later, Orioles' manager Phil Regan twice disdained the bunt and was amply rewarded.

With runners on first and second, nobody out, and the Orioles trailing 2-1, Brady Anderson and Manny Alexander both singled and Rafael Palmeiro hit a sacrifice fly. The net result was three runs as the Orioles cashed in on their best opportunity against knuckleballer Steve Sparks, who left an inning later.

This is not to suggest there isn't a place for the bunt, because there certainly is. But it's often the ultra conservative approach when the middle of the batting order is involved because, in addition to giving away an out, there is also the possibility that the next (and usually more dangerous) hitter won't get a chance to swing the bat.

It reminds of a story related by Bill Rigney, a longtime major-league manager now serving as a consultant for the Oakland A's. "I learned my lesson the hard way early in my career," he said.

"Close game, two on, nobody out and I had my No. 3 hitter [Willie Mays] bunt and they walked my No. 4 hitter [Willie McCovey]. My best hitter was sitting on the bench with me and my next-best hitter didn't get to swing the bat. That cured me," said Rigney.

In yesterday's game, after Bones had put the Orioles down in order in the first inning, Garner may have been excused for playing for an early run against Mussina. This time he bunted with the No. 2 hitter and ended up with runners on second and third and the Brewers eventually scored two unearned runs on two ground balls.

But then it was lights out -- they never had a better chance the rest of the day.

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