Sacrificing logic, Dodgers fall to Giants
May, 8, 2012
By Tony Jackson | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesAndre Ethier hit into two rally-killing double plays Tuesday in a loss to the Giants.
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly put on the sacrifice bunt at two critical, late-inning junctures Tuesday night. In doing so, it is entirely possible that he sacrificed a ballgame.
The result, either directly or indirectly, was a 2-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants before 32,799 at Dodger Stadium.
This is what happened in the seventh inning, with the Dodgers trailing by a run:
Juan Rivera and James Loney began the inning with consecutive singles, putting runners on first and second with nobody out, and then Juan Uribe was given a bunt sign. Uribe made contact, but the ball basically went straight down off his bat and landed about a foot in front of the plate, where Giants catcher Buster Posey was able to pick it up in plenty of time to not only get a force at third, but also for third baseman Joaquin Arias to complete the double play with a rifle to first to nail the slow-footed Uribe. A.J. Ellis then popped up to end the inning, stranding the tying run at second.
This is what happened in the eighth inning, with the Dodgers trailing by a run:
Bobby Abreu began the inning by working Ryan Vogelsong, the Giants righty who had kept the Dodgers in check all evening, for a seven-pitch walk. Dee Gordon followed with a beautiful bunt single, a ball that died in the grass between the pitcher's mound and the first-base line, about 60 feet up the line, leaving Vogelsong no chance to get the fleet Gordon at first. Again, runners on first and second, nobody out.
And again, Mattingly ordered the sac bunt, this time with Mark Ellis at the plate -- and quite possibly the best offensive player in baseball, Matt Kemp, on deck.
The always fundamentally sound Ellis got the bunt down, of course, moving both runners into scoring position but also leaving first base open so that the Giants all-too-predictably walked Kemp intentionally to face Andre Ethier. Now, Ethier is a dangerous hitter, but he already had grounded into a rally-killing double play in the third inning, and he was just about to do it again.
Two outs given up willingly. Two potential tying rallies that fizzled. A one-run loss.
Finally, this is what Mattingly said when confronted after the game with the fact those two strategic moves didn't really work out all that well:
"I wouldn't really change anything. We just have to execute, that's all. First and second, nobody out, you have to try to get the runners over, to get them into scoring position. The Mark one, I would do that all the time. They have to pick between Matt and Andre. I have Andre up there with the bases loaded, and I'll take that every day. He is leading the league in RBIs. We didn't really finish the deal, but Mark executed [the bunt]. And obviously, Juan wasn't trying to bunt the ball that soft.
"Neither one of those was a decision I would look back and change."
Someone in the room then threw out the notion -- which has been supported over the years by various statistical studies -- that the sacrifice bunt is actually counterproductive when it comes to generating runs.
"You can write it any way you want," Mattingly said, with uncharacteristic defiance. "I bunted the guys over [in the eighth] with my two best RBI guys going up there and made [the Giants] make a choice."
Rivera was removed from the game after sliding into third on Uribe's bunt after he experienced numbness in the back of his left knee on that slide. After the game, Rivera said he felt a pins-and-needles type sensation and that the medical staff had attributed it to something in a nerve. He is expected to have an MRI exam Wednesday.
Rivera missed two games last month because of a mild hamstring strain in the same leg, and the two injuries could be related. He said he will wait to see how he feels on Wednesday before deciding whether to play in the series finale against the Giants.