Baseball has many written rules and some unwritten rules. Most agree on the former; many more disagree on the latter.
But one tenet of the game that you’d think everyone could agree on is that playing to win is a good and noble pursuit, the purist pursuit. And if a player can put wood to ball and get on base, he should.
To that, the Minnesota Twins would say phooey.
So here’s a new unwritten rule to add to your list: Down seven, in the bottom of the ninth, in the third game of a 162-game season, with a pitcher in the midst of a one-hitter, with two prolific batters on deck, against a defensive shift … don’t bunt.
A lot of conditions need to be met for this rule to come into play, but the Baltimore Orioles broke it Sunday.
With Twins starting pitcher Jose Berrios two outs away from a shutout, up walked Orioles catcher Chance Sisco, whose third-inning double was the only hit allowed by Berrios to that point. In the bottom of the ninth, he laid a bunt down the third base line. One-hitter ruined, along with the Twins’ postgame moods.
Berrios would give up a walk and a hit but finished the shutout. But the victory did little to assuage the obvious-to-no-one slight.
“I don’t care if he’s bunting. I just know it’s not good for baseball in that situation. That’s it,” Berrios said.
“Nobody liked that. No, no, no. That’s not a good play,” Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario said.
“I could’ve said something, but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there, with Chris Davis, Adam Jones and those guys,” Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. “I’m sure they’ll address it and move forward.”
What was bad for baseball, why it wasn’t a good play and what could be addressed remained unsaid by the Minnesota players. Unwritten and unsaid. Just as rules were intended. Right.
Sisco, for his part, said he was just trying to reach base. The shift was on, so he put the ball into the open space.
“They were playing the shift right there, so they kind of gave it to me. If they’re going to shift, I have to take it right there in that spot. We got bases loaded right after that. We’re a couple home runs away from tying the game — bases loaded, [Jones] or [Jonathan Schoop] hits a home run right there? We’re a couple runs away from being back in that game.”
Among the critics who took exception to what the Twins players said postgame was famed baseball writer and statistician Bill James, who offered some pointed remarks on the situation and for Dozier in particular.
For what it’s worth, Dozier did response after Minnesota’s loss at the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday.
“When they didn’t hold our runner on, they conceded to the fact they didn’t want us to steal, so we didn’t steal,” Dozier said (via the St. Paul Pioneer Press). “We could have very easily stolen and put up more runs, so therefore in return you don’t bunt. That’s what everybody is missing in this whole thing. …
“Everyone just thinks, ‘He’s whining because they bunted against the shift,’ ” Dozier continued. “That’s how baseball is played. That’s just how the game is played. That’s just how it is.”
The clubs won’t meet again until July. Sisco can probably expect a fastball high and inside from whoever is standing on the mound for the Twins. Another unwritten rule.
And that moment will surely take over the No. 1 spot for dumbest payback-for-breaking-an-unwritten-rule-that-really-wasn’t-even-an-unwritten-rule. The current leader? The Bryce Harper-Hunter Strickland brawl-inducing beef from last May, of course.
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