Few topics engender as much debate in baseball circles as the shift. This past offseason, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred reportedly considered a ban on fielders overloading one side of the infield. Managers, meanwhile, love the shift and are steadfastly opposed to any ban.
The Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter almost certainly has thoughts on the issue, considering that he was estimated to have lost an MLB-high 23 hits to the shift in 2018 and entered the season with a career .161 average when the shift was on during his plate appearances. And considering his vast experience, it was only a matter of time before he solved the riddle.
It finally happened in the fifth inning Monday night against the Marlins when the left-handed-hitting Carpenter sent a perfectly placed bunt into the vast expanse on the left side of the infield and ended up at second base with a double — a stand-up bunt double — because Miami pitcher Elieser Hernandez was the only fielder there to chase down the ball.
It was a historic first:
“It’s nothing new,” Carpenter told the Post-Dispatch after the game. “Every time they shift me with less than two strikes I bunt. I’m surprised that they did it because it’s in the books. If it’s less than two strikes and there’s nobody over there, I bunt every single time.”
“I can’t believe he had to go get it,” he added, referring to Hernandez’s futile chase for the ball. “He was looking at his infielders like, ‘Is anybody else going to get this ball?’ I feel bad for him, but not really.”
Carpenter would end up scoring after Marlins second baseman Starlin Castro and center fielder JT Riddle nearly collided while trying to catch a shallow pop-up off the bat of Paul DeJong (Castro was charged with the error on the play).
Two innings earlier, Carpenter had beaten the shift the old-fashioned way, with a towering home run to right. In the eighth, he beat out a single that third baseman Brian Anderson fielded in short right field. It was only his third three-hit game of the season and first game since March 31 with two extra-base hits.
“If you hit left-handed in this league, they’re going to shift you,” he said. “Until they outlaw it or ban it, [teams] are just going to do it. Any time there’s not somebody over there, with less than two strikes, I bunt every single time. I will always go for that hit.”