By Steve Kallas
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This was supposed to be a column solely about Derek Jeter’s brilliant bunt in the Yankees’ huge 5-4 loss to the Orioles on Saturday night. But after first-base umpire Jerry Meals blew a pretty easy call at first when Mark Teixeira dove head first and beat the throw — turning a 5-5 tie into a 5-4 loss for the Yankees — we’ll have to deal with that issue as well.
THE BRILLIANT BUNT
The art of the bunt long ago escaped most big leaguers, sabermetric guys and others who categorize virtually all bunts with runners on first and second as the same. When Jeter came to bat in the top of the ninth with his team down a run and runners on first and second with nobody out, the YES announcers had a discussion about how Jeter won’t bunt. They discussed how you don’t want to give up an out in this situation, about how you don’t play for a tie on the road.
But it never dawned on these guys that a brilliant play at this point in the game is to bunt for a hit. If you lay down a beauty (Jeter did), you’ve hit the jackpot (bases loaded with nobody out). If they get you at first, your team is still set up to tie the game. When you bunt for a hit, you are not trying to just move the runners over. If somebody makes a great play or you bunt poorly, you are still in a position to tie up the game. If you execute (as Jeter did), you’ve satisfied everybody.
So what happened? Jeter didn’t square and give himself up. Rather, he clearly bunted for a hit, laying down a beauty and beating it without a throw. On TV, the announcers essentially blamed young Manny Machado for hesitating on the bunt, somehow believing that Machado could have thrown out Jeter at first if he had not hesitated. But the bunt was so good that nobody could have thrown out Jeter on that particular bunt in that particular situation.
THE TERRIBLE CALL
What can you say? Teixeira, coming back from a calf injury, was at the plate with runners on first and third and one out. The Yankees were down by a run in the ninth inning. He hit a ground ball to second and Baltimore tried to turn a 4-6-3 double play as Teixeira dove into first. He clearly beat the throw, but Meals called him out — an obvious mistake in real time and a terrible mistake when seen on replay. Just like that, the game was over instead of it being 5-5 with A-Rod coming up.
Teixeira was right. He was safe. He made some comments after the game about the umps wanting to get out of there that will probably get him fined.
But if Teixeira just ran through the base instead of diving head first, his entire body would have been past first. Teixeira, in his defense, said after the game that he never dives into first, but he felt that he couldn’t get there by running through the base. Give him the benefit of the doubt — after all, he busted it down the line and was safe) — but if he ran the last eight feet the way he ran the first 82, it says here that it would have been a much easier call for Meals.
Umpires, like baseball players, are creatures of habit. And when you take them out of their “comfort” zone (by diving or even sliding into first rather than running through the base), you run the risk of them missing a call — even an easy one.
As a result, in a potential one-game playoff scenario as a result of the two Wild Card system, this call may come back to haunt the Yankees.