In the bottom of the 7th of Game 2, the Yankees had the Phillies on the ropes. With two runs already in, the Yanks had no outs and the top of the order coming up. Although Johnny Damon’s umpire-assisted double play drew most of the attention, the batter before deserves a look.
We know what was going to happen when Derek Jeter came to the plate with no out and runners on first and second. We knew what was going to happen because we’ve seen it so many times this season. We’ve watched the Yankees’ all-time hitter — a guy with 2747 career hits, a .317 career batting average with a .388 on-base percentage, and someone who hits exceptional well in the playoffs — come to bat with runners on and take it upon himself to bunt.
What Derek did on Thursday night defies stupidity. He tried to bunt twice and missed both times. Then, with the count 0-2 against him, he bunted again. This one rolled foul, and the Yankees’ leadoff hitter had bunted his walk to a strike out. As the Yanks did not plate another run that inning, it could have proved costly.
Yesterday, Joe Posnanski took Jeter to task for the bunt. Because Posnanski has a way with words and images, take a read:
Jeter would later admit in his own understated way that it was dumb to try and bunt there (he bunted foul for strike three), but, of course, “dumb” doesn’t begin to cover the lunacy of that bunt attempt. It is dumb to send an insulting text message to the insult-target by mistake. It is dumb for the Coyote to keep buying his Road Runner hunting products from the Acme Corporation. It is dumb to pull on Superman’s cape, to spit in the wind, to tell Batman your villainous plan when you have him captured, to give Gilligan some sort of meaningful role the rescue mission. That bunt wasn’t dumb. It was closer to a nervous breakdown.
Posnanski goes on to question the Yanks’ belief in Jeter a bit. He believes that Girardi initially called the bunt but later called it off too. Jeter, then, tried to bunt for the third time on his own:
And undoubtedly, Jeter believes this himself. That’s the only possible reason he would have tried to bunt with two strikes, even after Girardi called it off. Jeter wants to sacrifice himself there, I think, because he believes sacrifice is a big part of what makes him great and different. Would A-Rod bunt there? Would Miggy Cabrera? Would Manny Ramirez? Would Albert Pujols? No (nor should they). They would not bunt … but Derek Jeter would. Because he is not just a great hitter. No, he’s a guy who would do anything to help the team win.
Trouble is — he IS a great hitter, and hitting is the best way he can help the team win — in that situation and in pretty much every other situation. He should know this. The Yankees should know this. But the Jeter mystique has been blown up to such proportions that it has become its own monster, and monsters need to be fed.
When I saw Derek Jeter foul bunt on strike three like some helpless pitcher, I immediately thought it was one of the five dumbest plays I had ever seen — and I know I would have felt that way had he gotten the bunt down.
He concludes: “After all these years, the Yankees still don’t seem to full understand or appreciate why Derek Jeter is one of the great players his generation. And what’s even stranger is that Jeter may not be entirely sure himself.”
I’m not sure I fully support his final argument. I’m sure the Yankees understand and appreciate Derek Jeter as one of the greatest players of his generation. What the Yankees do not seem to understand and what Derek definitely doesn’t understand is that bunting in that situation is sheer lunacy. It doesn’t increase the team’s chances of scoring multiple runs, and it gives the Phillies an extra out, that ever-important currency of a game that lasts just 27 outs. It took the bat out of the hands of one of October’s most prolific hitters and gave the Phillies in opportunity to escape the inning.
And you know what? Derek won’t bunt with two strikes again. But if faced with the same circumstances tonight, if he comes up with runners on first and second with no one out, Derek and the Yanks will do it all over again.