Writing about unwritten rules in 8-3 games, no-hitters

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Sunday gave us more fun with unwritten rules in one already much discussed incident. The Rays’ Yunel Escobar decided to take third base in the seventh inning of an 8-3 game against the Red Sox on Sunday, leading to a benches clearing incident and three ejections.

Now, I’m not sure it’s fair to say the Red Sox took exception to Escobar’s decision. Some idiot on the Red Sox did — David Ross, apparently — but I think what happened afterwards was more about an unpopular player’s reaction to being jawed at, a rather ridiculous hothead in Jonny Gomes wanting a piece of the action and some frustration boiling over from there. There was nothing wrong with Escobar taking that base in a five-run game with two innings left to go. Everyone in the Red Sox clubhouse probably realizes that now.

Less talked about (untalked about?) was what happened in a 6-0 game a thousand miles away. Well, no, plenty was written about that game, too. The Dodgers’ Josh Beckett pitched the first no-hitter of 2014 and the first of his career against the Phillies.

And I think it deserves a tiny asterisk.

The first two players to come to bat for the Phillies in the ninth were pinch-hitter Tony Gwynn Jr. and leadoff man Ben Revere, both of whom are accomplished bunters. According to Fangraphs data, Gwynn had already attempted eight bunt hits in 66 at-bats this season, succeeding on two of them. Over the course of his career, one out of every 12 of his hits has been a bunt single. Revere had four successful bunt singles in six tries this year and 25 in his career. One out of every 17 of his hits has been a bunt single.

The Dodgers infield, though, played back on both, further back than the group had played earlier in the game. The Dodgers correctly surmised that neither player would be “bush league” enough to try to break up Beckett’s no-hitter by bunting in a 6-0 game and took advantage of it.

That’s just not fair, in my opinion. I think there’s something to “respecting the accomplishment” and such things. I would have been disappointed had Gwynn or Revere tried a bunt with the outcome essentially in no doubt. But I’m more disappointed that the Dodgers capitalized on that to decrease the chances of Gwynn or Revere getting a clean single. If the fielders are playing closer on the corners, as they should have been, then there’s a better chance that a grounder sneaks through.

It this all nitpicking? Maybe. But this is yet another example of why I don’t like unwritten rules. If the Phillies had broken code today and Revere had bunted for a single, there might well have been foolish repercussions down the line. Certainly, there would be no shortage of articles today fuming about his lack of class. His name would have superseded that of Ben Davis, who famously bunted to break up a Curt Schilling perfect game in the eighth inning (in a 2-0 game) in 2001.

But I say it was the Dodgers who broke code. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If you’re going to give the hitter all that room to bunt, you have absolutely no right to complain if he takes it.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.