Failing to play small ball in extra-innings leads to a big loss for the Boston Red Sox in the series finale against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s a tie game in the bottom of the 11th inning. The Boston Red Sox have the winning run on second base with nobody out and their No. 9 hitter at the plate. This scenario is tailor-made for the batter to drop down a bunt to get that runner over to third with less than two outs. Apparently, Marco Hernandez didn’t get the memo.
When Jackie Bradley Jr. led off the inning with a double, the assumption was that Hernandez would square up to bunt. We saw him do it in the ninth inning to move Bradley from first into scoring position. Making that sacrifice again would put the winning run 90 feet away from home plate.
There was no sign of a bunt when Hernandez took the first pitch away for a ball. Maybe he read that the pitch was tailing outside and didn’t want to give away his intentions. Then he swung at a fastball in the zone, fouling it off to even the count. You can understand why Hernandez would pivot toward swinging away once he got ahead in the count 3-1 but swinging at that second pitch essentially confirmed he never had bunting on his mind.
The plate appearance would end with Hernandez rolling a weak grounder to shortstop. The decision not to bunt was made worse by a bone-headed baserunning play by Bradley. Baseball players are taught since Little League, if a ground ball is in front of you, stay at second base.
Bradley got greedy. He tried to do too much by advancing on a play when he should have stayed at second base. Bradley was thrown out easily at third, awkwardly stumbling into the tag as if trying to find a creative way to avoid it before quickly admitting defeat and surrendering to the costly out.
Bradley took responsibility for his baserunning blunder and attempted to explain his thought process on the play, according to Masslive’s Christopher Smith.
"“I wasn’t necessarily committed to going on contact,” Bradley said. “First of all, I messed up. I messed up. But with that being said, my thought process was, he (Seager) was behind me, jockeying me to make sure I stayed close to the base. With a lefty in Marco being up, I thought they were going to be shifted a little bit more towards the middle.”"
Staying at second base would have kept a runner in scoring position with Mookie Betts stepping up to the plate. We can’t say for sure that Betts would have driven in Bradley for the walk-off win but the Red Sox would gladly take that scenario over hitting with a runner on first instead.
Betts ended up hitting a fly ball to right field, plenty deep to have scored a runner from third. If Hernandez had successfully moved the runner over with a bunt, Betts would have won it with a sac fly.
Would the outcome have been any different if Bradley had stayed put on the Hernandez groundout? If you assume that Betts still flies out to right, Bradly gets to third with two outs. Rafael Devers still probably gets intentionally walked. Xander Bogaerts reached on an infield single in that inning to load the bases but if the runners were on the corners instead of first and second, Bogaerts would have driven in the winning run.
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There’s a lot of uncertainty in this scenario with assumptions that the pitcher and hitters would all take the same approach under different circumstances. We’ll never know exactly how it would have played out but you have to believe that the Red Sox would have a strong chance of walking off with a win if Hernandez dropped down a successful bunt or Bradley hadn’t run into an out at third.
The Dodgers would score three runs in the top of the 12th to win the game and clinch the series.
This was Boston’s chance to make a statement against an elite team. It was a chance to show a national audience that they’ve put their rocky first half behind them and are ready to contend with the best teams in baseball. Instead, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
The loss highlights a concern that plagued this team in the first half. They make too many dumb mistakes. The types of mistakes they didn’t make last season when they rolled to a franchise record 108 wins.
Not sacrificing when the situation obviously called for it was a mistake. Bradley’s poor baserunning was worse. Fighting their way back into a playoff spot will require the Red Sox to do more than simply play better. They need to play smarter.