The first case comes in the third inning, with no outs and Russell Martin on 1st. Gardner lays down an unexpected bunt that rolls up the first base line, forcing Miguel Cabrera to come up and field it, though he does and throws Gardner out by a step. This is actually a case where I think managers could stand to gain just from throwing in a bunt-for-hit attempt roughly 10-15% of the time at random. Because the defense isn’t expecting it, the likelihood of success increases, and once it’s established that you like to do this, teams will have to change their defense.
In addition, in this particular circumstance you have a first baseman who’s hardly the most graceful fielder in the league working on a wet field. If Cabrera’s reaction is a split second slower or he is less than perfect in fielding the ball, or even if the ball rolls up the line just a touch slower, Gardner has this one beat out by a step or more. Not a bad call at all.
The second one is a little bit dicier, both because Gardner has already bunted once and also because he showed bunt more than once in the at bat, taking away the element of surprise. It came in the seventh inning with Phil Coke on in relief, no outs and Russell Martin again on first. This was something of a more “obvious” bunting situation as well, with the Yankees holding a one run lead thanks to Curtis Granderson‘s home run, and the Tigers staring down the dynamic duo of Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera the rest of the way.
Still, I’m a little hard-pressed to get too worked up over it. With a left-handed pitcher on the mound, the pitcher is going to tail to the third base side on his delivery, forcing him to move the other way to field the bunt. Add in Gardner’s speed and the wet conditions, and this is another circumstance in which the slightest mistake results in Gardner reaching safely. Coke fielded the ball nicely, but if he’d had trouble coming up with the ball cleanly, getting his footing underneath of him, etc. Gardner would have beaten the throw.
So on the whole, I really don’t have much of a problem with Gardner’s bunts today, though that’s in no small part because of the wet field. If this because a too regular occurrence, such that Gardner is really just sacrificing and hoping to get lucky, I reserve the right to revisit my assessment.
Update: Moshe Mandel of The Yankee Analysts wrote about the same topic last night.