Give the Washington Nationals credit for creativity.
Facing the possibility of another early exit in the playoffs, manager Matt Williams — with runners on first and second and no outs in the seventh inning of a scoreless, elimination game against San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner — called for his catcher, Wilson Ramos, to lay down a sacrifice bunt.
Even for the most bunt-averse, it seems like a pretty good idea … but Ramos hadn’t successfully laid down a sac bunt since 2011.
"We practice that every day in our [batting practice] rounds," Williams said after the game. "You never know when you’re going to have to do it."
Indeed, the Giants’ defensive positioning was ready for such a play, with third baseman Pablo Sandoval playing in tight on the grass. What no one expected was for Bumgarner to make a prohibitively wild throw to third. The ball rolled into the nether regions beyond the Giants’ foul territory bullpen mounds and past left fielder Travis Ishikawa. The two runs were more than enough for the Nationals to secure an eventual 4-1 win.
The play was maddening for Giants players and fans on several levels. First, getting an out — any out! — was the priority and that objective failed to the highest degree. Second, Nats pitcher Doug Fister, who was matching Bumgarner zero for zero, would’ve been pulled for a pinch hitter if the inning had continued apace. The error, and three runs that followed after, allowed Williams to keep his starter in for one more inning, something that his taxed bullpen, which worked overtime in Saturday’s 18-inning affair, certainly must’ve appreciated. Third, the bunt was laid down with two strikes, which is to say, really, Matt Williams?
But most of all, the runner on the play, Ian Desmond, would’ve been safe regardless. There was literally no reason for Bumgarner to throw to third.
Except according to Giants catcher Buster Posey, the blame goes all on him. He said after the game that he yelled for Bumgarner, who saw his personal 22-inning streak of scoreless baseball snapped, to throw to third. (Bumgarner, when asked straight-up if Posey made the call, deferred to his battery mate.)
"To be honest, I was hoping we would get an out there," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who joked that Bumgarner "threw it away well, too."
So the Giants may have been ready for anything, but Ramos may not have been. On the off chance that Ramos would do a double take upon seeing the bunt sign – assuming he even knew what it looked like – third-base coach Bob Henley played it safe, walked over to Ramos and told him what to do
Later, Williams shrugged his shoulders a little. "It’s a dire situation," he said. "We’ve got to try to score a run."
The Nationals figure to have a slightly easier time scoring runs Tuesday afternoon as they again play to stay alive in these as-yet-wholly-unpredicatable 2014 playoffs. Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong has allowed 13 hits and nine earned runs in 11 1/3 innings against Washington this season.
Vogelsong said he’s excited about the chance to start. He was 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in 24 playoff innings during San Francisco’s 2012 title run. The experience helps in this case, he said, but he’s just going to try to execute his pitches — "hit Buster’s glove as many times as I can," was how he put it.
It was Bumgarner missing a glove in a pivotal situaiton that sunk the Giants in Game 3, so not a bad idea at all.
You can follow Erik Malinowski, who dares to imagines a utopia where bunting is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment, on Twitter at @erikmal and email him at email@example.com.