Yesterday's Detroit Tigers v. LA Angels (of Anaheim) was a treasure trove of unwritten rule violations. Carlos Guillen's celebratory preening following his insurance and eventual game winning HR and Jered Weaver's bean ball response to the next batter were just the tip of the iceberg in this matchup. What I'd really like to comment on is the 8th inning bunt attempt by Erick Aybar that kicked off the Angels' attempted comeback, but at the possible expense of Justin Verlander's no hitter.
Aybar is a speedy, slap hitter whose job is to get on and get over. Down 3-0 in the top of the 8th, after nine Angels had already been sent down swinging, and the other twelve had hit the ball haplessly, Aybar decided to try to bunt his way on for a hit. It's not exactly something outside of his repertoire, as he led the majors last season in bunt singles. But the move did catch Verlander off guard as he fielded the bunt cleanly but threw wide of first base. The no-hitter remained in tact due to the throwing error, though later in the inning was broken up by a Macier Izturis single that brought the game within 1 for the Angels. After the game, Verlander had this to say:
"There's arguments both ways, but obviously from a pitching standpoint, we like to call it bush league,"Unfortunately, there ISN'T an argument both ways. At the time of the play, the Detroit Tigers were 2 games up in the AL Central with a Cleveland Indians team making a desperate push, and the LA Angels were 1.5 games behind the Texas Rangers who have been average as of late. While not competing directly with one another, these are two teams that are very much in the middle of a playoff push. This isn't some meaningless mop-up type game in late September. Secondly, this is a 3 run game with six outs remaining. Verlander wasn't one out away from a perfect game with a 7 run lead so the play has to be kept in perspective. A player has no obligation whatsoever to work for a base hit "the old fashioned way" in such a close game. Aybar's name doesn't go into the history books beside Verlander's as one of the guys who didn't get a hit. And the play nearly worked as the Angels were within one run of tieing it up with 4 outs remaining!
Verlander can gripe all he wants, but the fact of the matter is that Aybar was simply doing what he does better than anyone else in the league. NOT attempting to bunt in that situation would be a bigger violation than doing so. Weaver had been ejected, base runners were scarce, and the Angels were desperate. It was a beautiful play and one that should be applauded rather than criticized. Baseball is a game where the Yankees can score twelve runs in a single inning with only two extra base hits (as seen on Friday). So why can't Aybar kick off a rally with a bunt single?
For a good read, I would also suggest checking out The Baseball Codes blog and picking up their book. Excellent bathroom material!