Bunting - it sure does look great ringing a big league ballpark in October, doesn't it?
Oh, and then there's the other kind. In all honesty, I don't hate the bunt as much as some fans of my generation. It certainly has it's place. For example, I usually don't get too upset to see Jayson Nix lay down a sacrifice bunt with a runner on - it sure beats the inevitable double play.
But then Ichiro Suzuki laid down a bunt on Friday night that made me question not only bunting, but humanity itself. I turned off the TV as soon as it was over, yet I couldn't get it out of my head. So layered were the levels of failure in this one bunt that it simultaneously overwhelmed my brain and crushed my spirit. I am convinced that, even as I write this article, filmmaker Darren Aronovsky is writing a dense, esoteric screenplay for a film about Friday night's game called "The Bunter", starring Mickey Rourke as Ichiro.
Such a monumental bunt deserves detailed analysis, so here are some arguments that what we saw Friday night was the stupidest bunt of all time:
1. The situation
Tie game, seventh inning, two outs, runner on first (Robinson Cano).
The fact that Cano was running - instead of, say, Travis Hafner - is significant. Cano isn't the fastest runner on the team, but he is plenty fast enough to score on a ball hit in the gap. That is the advantage of hitting with a runner on first and two outs - you have a chance to drive in that runner from first with an extra-base hit. Or you could just bunt, I guess. Ichiro was bunting to keep the line moving...with two outs in the seventh. That is sheer madness. The Yankees weren't playing for a big inning at that point; they were playing simply to regain the lead. A bunt base hit doesn't get you the lead there, it simply puts the go-ahead run at second for...
2. The next hitter
The only way this strategy makes any sense is if the team has some big lumber coming up - like, say, Robinson Cano, the guy on base at the time. So, with Cano on base, to whom exactly was Ichiro looking to pass this two-out baton? Zoilo Almonte.
Look, you love Zoilo. I love Zoilo. My mom loves Zoilo...even though she can't pronounce his name, and keeps calling him "Solo." But that late-game plate appearance was his 29th at the major-league level. Passing such a critical at bat to Zoilo was criminal, especially considering...
3. He's freakin' Ichiro
Future Hall of Famer. Greatest Japanese player in Major League history. The all-time single-season leader in hits. Since an extra-base hit would most likely have given the Yankees the lead, let's check the career totals for Ichiro and Zoilo heading into that inning:
Ichiro: 506 extra-base hits
Zoilo: 3 extra-base hits
Ah, yes, but Ichiro is a mere shell of his former self, right? That is true, but then again, it's important to remember...
4. Ichiro was one of the team's hottest hitters heading into that game
At the time, Ichiro was riding a seven-game hitting streak, which also included a double and two home runs - either of which would have been useful at that moment. Three games earlier, he hit this home run, which proved fairly useful:
Oh, how I wish I could read his mind as he's rounding the bases in this video - he's probably thinking, "Damn, I really wish I had bunted there."
In case you're still not convinced of the stupidity of this bunt, it's also important to keep in mind...
4. The Orioles' defense
Had Ichiro dragged the bunt toward first base, the bunt might not have seemed so hopeless. Instead, he pushed the bunt toward third base, between Matt Wieters (two-time reigning Gold Glove winner, one of the most athletic catchers in the majors, cannon for an arm) and Manny Machado (one of the most athletic third basemen in the majors, cannon for an arm). I'm sure Ichiro was counting on the element of surprise, but he bunted the ball toward two players with the kind of rare athletic ability to utterly neutralize that surprise factor. It would have taken an absolutely perfect bunt there, especially in light of the fact that...
5. Ichiro is old as hell, and not nearly as fast as he used to be
Three days earlier, the man became the oldest Yankee ever to hit a regular-season walk-off home run, and now he's trying to beat out a bunt in the most crucial moment of the game. Ichiro is still fast, but he's no longer that fast. In the end, the bunt came off as an act of hubris from a once-transcendent athlete whose athleticism no longer transcends anything.
More than anything, the bunt typified this season's Yankee offense. After years of watching lineups with the power to ensure any runner was in scoring position, Yankee fans are forced to watch a lineup that often needs four hits to score a run. That's a whole lot of bunts, people.