When Joe Buck and Tim McCarver agree that it was a bad play, it was indeed a bad play. (We’re still waiting on Chip Caray’s brilliantly guided analysis.) I’m referring to the apparent decision by Jeter to try to bunt in the seventh inning of last night’s game. Two runners were on base—Melky Cabrera, who had knocked Pedro Martinez out of the game, and the King of Speed, Jorge Posada, who had greeted the new pitcher, Chan Ho Park, with an RBI single—to set the table for Jeter. The Yankees had a 3-1 lead, but it was apparent Joe Girardi would be turning to Mariano Rivera for an extended save unless more runs were scored.
When you have one of your best hitters at the plate, one who has a knack through coming through with runners on base—Jeter has a career .308 average when runners are in scoring position—you’d surely give him a chance to knock in some runs, especially one with decent base running skills, like Melky Cabrera, is on second. That’s not the play that was on, though. The bench had initially told him to bunt, so Jeter squared.
His first attempt went foul. A four-seamer buzzed the outside corner, putting Jeter in the hole 0-2. Now, we all know that when you bunt with two strikes and you foul a pitch off, you’re out, so teams usually take the bunt off and allow their hitter to swing. That’s exactly what Joe Girardi did, but the man who hit .334 in the regular season decided to give himself up once again. On the third pitch of the at-bat, Jeter again squared, this time laying wood on the ball. It went foul right in front of catcher Carlos Ruiz. Instead of having a productive AB, perhaps moving runners over on a deep fly or maybe even getting a hit, Jeter took the bat out of his own hands.
Why even risk bunting in that situation? According to run expectation, with runners on first and second and no out, a team is expected to approximately 1.5 runs in an inning. When there are runners on second and third with one out, the run expectation actually goes down to 1.4. There’s always a chance that Jeter hits into a double play—Jeter ranked 20th in the league in DP% with 17 percent—and he is a ground-ball hitter, but when you’re in the World Series and have one of your best hitters at the plate, it’s better to take the risk.
Some people laud Jeter for being willing to give himself up for the good of the team, but the whole point of a good hitter is that he’s too good to throw away his at-bats on something with as limited potential to do good as a bunt. Worse, the Yankees did not score again, thanks in part to the botched call by first base umpire Brian Gorman on Johnny Damon’s liner to Ryan Howard.
Jeter said after the game that deciding to bunt with two strikes was his call. “That was me,” Jeter said. “I was stupid.”