Monday, August 1, 2011

Baseball’s Only “Unwritten Rule”

Another event, another debate.  On Sunday afternoon, Justin Verlander was within six outs of recording his second no-hitter of the season.  With the Tigers holding a slim 3-0 advantage, in steps Erick Aybar to lead off the eighth inning. On the first pitch of the at-bat, Aybar lays down a bunt.  Verlander responds with an errant throw to first base allowing Aybar to reach safely.  The play was ruled an error, leaving the no-hitter intact.

Twitter blew up.  The baseball traditionalists erupted.  And even Verlander was livid, shouting at Aybar and threatening to throw at him from the dugout.  Why? It’s baseball’s unwritten rule of course: never attempt a bunt to break up a no-hitter.  Seems logical right?  If the pitcher has his dominant stuff and is on the verge of blanking your team late in the game, just go easy on him.  It’s his day.

Ridiculous. How about this “unwritten rule”: Do everything you can within the rules to win the game.  Run through the catcher, steal signs from second, and heaven forbid, bunt the baseball.

Entering the game, the Angels were a mere 2.0 games back of the AL West leading Rangers.  Their ace, Jared Weaver, had just been ejected from the game.  The offense was struggling as they had failed to collect a single hit through seven innings, yet they trailed only 3-0.  That sounds like the perfect time to bunt.

Traditionalists will argue that Aybar is compromising the integrity of the game, yet I believe he is upholding it.  The detractors are the same people who refuse replay in baseball.  They are the ones who like watching professional pitchers hit.  And they are the old-school fans who reject the idea of a Mark Cuban-like character in baseball.  They are holding the game back.

If Aybar was wrong, Tiger manager Jim Leyland surely didn’t think so.

“They've got a good team with a lot of speed and they're trying to win a pennant just like we are,” said Leyland. “I don't have any problem with that play whatsoever.”

But Verlander took exception to the play.  "I know it was only 3-0, so I can understand there are arguments on both sides. But as a pitcher, we call that Bush league," said Verlander.

The irony is that, in this particular case, the errant throw to first by Verlander was the only one that deserved the distinction of being an amateur play.

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