The first instance came in the bottom of the 8th, with Derek Jeter batting and Brett Gardner on 1st. Now, in general, playing for one run here doesn’t really bother me that much. It would have been the go ahead run with just three outs remaining for the Royals, and the Yankees had Mariano Rivera ready to pitch the 9th. I’d take those odds too. And while bunting a runner to second is usually a bad move because it reduces your run expectancy, in this case you had an extreme groundball hitter at the plate, so it can definitely be argued that the slightly reduced run expectancy is made up for by taking the GIDP off of the table.
But here’s the thing, Brett Gardner is on first base! The Brett Gardner who’s stolen 91 bases in 110 attempts in his career, an 82.7% success rate. Yes, he’s just 5 for 10 this year, but if you had to put your money on it, would you rather bet on the sample size of 110 attempts or just his most recent 10 tries? You have to let Gardner attempt to steal the base there, and then maybe you bunt him to 3rd if you want to play for one run. That should be obvious.
But the much worse decision, and honestly, maybe the worst bunt call of the season, came in the bottom of the 10th. With the Yankees trailing 3-2the Royals brought in Joakim Soria, who proceeded to walk Russell Martin on four straight pitches, none of which was anywhere near the strikezone. Brett Gardner then came to the plate, and took to first two pitches of his at bat for balls. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s six straight balls and no strikes out of the pen for Soria. So what does Gardner do on the 2-0 pitch? He bunts. On a 2-0 pitch. When the opposing pitcher has yet to throw a strike. In what world does anyone think that’s good baseball? He fouled that pitch off, took another ball, and then bunted a 3-1 pitch to move Martin up. Yes, a 3-1 pitch. After trying to bunt a 2-0 pitch in the same at bat. Let that sink in.
And, for what it’s worth, both of the pitches Gardner made contact with were borderline pitches up and away, either one of which might have been called a ball by the home plate umpire, especially considering how much difficulty Soria was having hitting the zone.
Frankly, we’ve reached the point where someone has to pull rank on Girardi here. It’s not just the bunts in general, it’s the stubborn insistence on the bunts in situations where it’s not appropriate. It’s the continued use of the bunt every time Martin gets on first ahead of Gardner, which pretty much negates any chance of Gardner getting on first without an error. It’s the refusal to admit Gardner simply can’t bunt for a hit at will (or at all, for that matter). It’s gotten totally out of control, and there’s absolutely no logical explanation for most of it. It reached the point of self-parody last night, and someone upstairs is going to have to step in and order Girardi to knock it off.