Congratulations, Ned Yost, you just managed the worst inning of the season.
The situation: The Kansas City Royals trailed the Cleveland Indians 4-3 entering the top of the ninth. The Indians summoned closer Chris Perez from the bullpen, a guy who has been awful of late. In his previous 13 appearances Perez had faced 60 batters and allowed 18 hits -- including four home runs -- and four walks. In September, he'd pitched four innings and allowed eight hits.
Salvador Perez led off with a base hit to left field. Mike Moustakas walked on four pitches. Pinch-runners for both were on base. Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar -- the bottom of the order -- were due up. You have a struggling pitcher who just walked a batter on four pitches. What do you do?
Here's what you don't do: Give Perez an out.
David Lough pinch-hit for Cain and sacrificed. Didn't take a pitch. Didn't make Perez throw at least one strike. He bunted the first pitch.
Look, it's not just the sabermetric crowd who is anti-bunt. Managers have become anti-bunt, not sacrificing nearly as often as they used to. It's a one-run strategy with minimal payoff in a world where more hitters than ever can drive the ball for extra bases or out of the park. A bunt may slightly increase your chance to score one run but it also decreases your chance for multiple runs. It's a strategy from an era when singles were more common, but in this age of increasing strikeouts and declining batting averages, singles are less likely than ever to occur.
In this specific instance, though, why give an out to a pitcher who has been a train wreck of late? Why make him get only two outs in an inning instead of three?
Yost then trumped that decision with an even worse one: He pinch-hit Carlos Pena for Dyson. That's .208-hitting Carlos Pena. That's Carlos Pena, with two major league plate appearances since July 20. That's Carlos Pena, the owner of one of the highest strikeout rates in the majors (28 percent of his PAs this year). So with the Royals' season on the line -- well, maybe not quite the entire season, although it sure felt like it to Royals fans -- Yost sent up a guy who doesn't hit singles and had a 1-in-3 chance of striking out.
Maybe he was hoping for a sacrifice fly, playing for the tie rather than the win. Go for the knockout blow there when you have a chance. (You can argue that he should have saved Lough to hit for Dyson, since he's a much better contact guy than Pena.)
Pena saw six pitches. Didn't move the bat off his shoulder. Called out on strikes. An awful at-bat by a veteran who knew he was sent up there to put the ball in play. Then again, that's what Pena does: He strikes out. After George Kottares, yet another pinch-hitter, skillfully coaxed a walk off Perez, Alex Gordon flew out to shallow center. Game over. Season over?
Yost, you may remember, was the manager the Milwaukee Brewers fired with 12 games remaining in the 2008 season -- they were battling for the playoffs but had just lost six of seven. Dale Sveum replaced him and went 7-5 over the final 12 games and the Brewers won the wild card. Who fires their manager with 12 games left in a playoff season? I mean, outside of the NHL? A front office that felt it could do better.
— Jeff Beitel (@jeffbeitel) September 10, 2013
@dschoenfield "wait a gosh darn minute here, you're supposed to try to get the run in and NOT have a player K?oops!"-Yost
— Zane (@Getz_is_awful) September 10, 2013
@dschoenfield Oh I completely agree Yost made the wrong call, but that shouldn't surprise anyone, he's mismanaged these situations all year
— Michael Kogler (@KCsportsaholic) September 10, 2013
— David Lesky (@DBLesky) September 10, 2013
So ... this was a huge win for the Indians, and a huge start again for Ubaldo Jimenez, who allowed one unearned in seven innings, with 10 strikeouts and no walks. It was his second walk-less start of the season, but also his second in three starts: He had a 10-K, no-walk start against Atlanta on Aug. 29. In fact, since July 22, Jimenez has a 1.95 ERA in nine starts, with 63 strikeouts, 22 walks and three home runs in 55 2/3 innings. It's his best run of pitching since that great start he had for the Rockies in 2010.
The Indians need him to keep doing this with Justin Masterson possibly out the rest of the season. With the Rays idle, the Indians (and victorious Orioles) moved to 1.5 games behind Tampa for the second wild card. The Royals dropped down to 4 back. In a most painful way.