Yanks, Rays differ on value of bunting
It was a tale of two teams in the first inning Wednesday night at Tropicana Field. The Yankees and the Rays each got their leadoff hitter on base. The Yankees did not score. The Rays did. The difference was something as simple as a sacrifice. The Yankees eschewed the notion. The Rays executed one and got a run out of it.
The funny thing about the situation is that Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long following Tuesday night’s loss suggested that the team may have to change its approach with runners on base and give more consideration to the bunt. Yet after Derek Jeter led off the game with a single to right off Matt Moore, Nick Swisher did not attempt a bunt and eventually was called out on strikes. Robinson Cano followed that by grounding into a double play to end the inning.
“We’re not the Bronx Bunters, and we really never have been,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters before the game. “That’s not really our approach. The one thing you can concentrate on is really good at-bats and making sure you grind out your at-bats. If you have to move a runner over, make sure you hit the ball to the other side or pull it or try to drive the ball. Take the extra base when you can. We’re not going to change our philosophy.”
Sam Fuld, getting a rare start as Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon gave B.J. Upton the night off, led off the bottom of the first with a single to left off Hiroki Kuroda. Desmond Jennings dropped a bunt to the right side that moved Fuld into scoring position. After Ben Zobrist struck out, Evan Longoria bounced a single through the right side that got Tampa Bay the run it bunted for.
Bunting did not work out as well for the Rays in the second inning. A single by Jeff Keppinger and a double by Jose Lobaton gave Tampa Bay runners on second and third with one out. Elliot Johnson, the Rays’ 9-hole hitter, tried a safety squeeze, but he bunted the ball right at Kuroda, who held Keppinger at third base and got the second out at first base. Fuld grounded out to end the threat.
The Yanks caught a break that inning. Lobaton’s double over the outstretched glove of Curtis Granderson in center field was on a hit-and-run play, but Keppinger had to hold up around second base to make sure the ball got past Granderson, who got the ball back to the infield too quickly for Keppinger to attempt to score.
Maddon is known to be unconventional. Not having Upton in the lineup fits into that category. Upton was 3-for-7 (.429) with one double, two home runs, three runs and three RBI in the first two games. It had nothing to do with how Upton has fared in his career against Kuroda. They have never faced each other. Maddon told writers he was just giving his center fielder a day off. Still, that’s strange.