It’s a 6-4 game, bottom of the ninth. Nobody out. The home squad’s 6-7-8 hitters are up with three outs to play with. That’s not a good place to start, but with consecutive singles to lead the inning off suddenly you’re in business. So, what do you do?
Well, if you’re the Buffalo Bisons, you take out your DH on second base for a pinch runner. Out goes Michel Abreu, in goes Cory Sullivan. This means 1) you’re not pinch hitting for your 8 hitter, and 2) you are most certainly bunting. Keep in mind that the tying run is at first base, not third. Barring something especially freaky, you need a base hit to tie the game.
So up comes Robinson Cancel, who is in fact bunting. Everyone in the building now knows this, including pitcher Rafael Perez. His first pitch is outside the strike zone and bunted foul. If you think Cancel is getting a good pitch to bunt, you’re crazy. The second pitch is a bit lower but also bunted foul, and all of a sudden Robinson Cancel isn’t bunting anymore.
In the matter of two pitches, we’ve gone from small ball to Moneyball. Cancel now needs to move the runners over with a hit, because clearly he isn’t comfortable bunting. Keep in mind that Cancel is 1-14 (.071) with runners in scoring position, with just one RBI all season. Oh, and he’s suddenly batting with an 0-2 count.
He jumps on the next pitch, skying it to shallow center for the first out of the inning. Two outs left, a pinch runner on second when you need the runner at first, 33 year-old Mike Lamb, to score.
Now your nine hitter, Jonathan Malo, is up. He’s hitting .174 this season and also is 1-14 with RISP, but you’re not pinch hitting a slightly better Cory Sullivan (.202, 3-28 RISP) for him because Sullivan is still standing at second base. Again, you need a hit to score two runs, or at the very least move the runners over. The worst you can do is get a ball into the outfield and hope the top of the order can generate a hit.
Three pitches later Malo grounds into a 5-4-3 double play. Game over.
Now you can certainly argue for the decision to pinch run at second, but the lack of execution is just laughable. Not only was Cancel completely uncomfortable bunting, but he had already come through for you just two innings beforehand. A Cancel single in the 7th moved a runner over that later scored, narrowing the margin to 6-4. His RISP is awful, but you just saw him deliver less than an hour beforehand.
In fact, the Bisons managed to get the lead off man aboard in each of the final three innings. However, that one run was all they managed to score on a sacrifice fly, after a sacrifice bunt to move him over, of course. One run that took two outs to manufacture, but they actually got it done. Instead, they fail in simple fundamentals and blow the chance to rally in the 9th.
This time the loss wasn’t about a lack of hitting, but a lack of execution. Despite lousy batting averages, the Bisons managed ten hits, five of which came in the final three innings. Still, you know the number from those innings that counts: one run.
If you’re looking for a quote from a Bison, you’re not finding it here. We all know by now that the Bisons are “professional hitters”, and the real story is the return of Cleveland Indians prospects to Buffalo. Maybe tomorrow I’ll make the trip down to the Bisons locker room, and maybe the result will be different.