Let's Erase This Unwritten Rule
Something really, really weird happened after the Padres-Giants game on Tuesday night that I want to mention. Mauricio Dubon, a 27-year-old utility player for San Francisco, was answering questions after the Giants pounded the Padres 13-2. The game will be noteworthy for a whole other reason — Alyssa Nakken became the first woman to coach on the field when she took over as first base coach after the Giants’ regular first base coach, Antoan Richardson, was thrown out.
But we’ll save that celebration for another day. Let’s go to the questions!
REPORTER: “What are your thoughts on the philosophy knowing that it could potentially down the road lead to somebody throwing at you?”
REPORTER: “Do you think other teams will do this back to the Giants now?”
OK, stop right there … whoa? What horrible thing did Dubon, a seemingly friendly ballplayer from Honduras, do to the Padres that would prompt reporters to ask about the dangers of revenge and potential beanballs and the rest?
He bunted for a single.
In the sixth inning.
No, really. That’s what he did.
I would tell you there’s more to the story … but there isn’t. The Giants were leading the Padres 11-2 in the sixth inning thanks to their destruction of starter Yu Darvish. They scored six runs off Darvish in the first — Brandon Belt’s belt being the key hit — and then added four more in the second. Dubon was put in as a defensive substitution in the third inning as Giants manager Gabe Kapler saw this as a good opportunity to rest his starting shortstop, Brandon Crawford. Dubon is a very good defensive player.
Dubon, however, is not a very good hitter. If he were a very good hitter, he’d be starting somewhere. As it is, he has a career 88 OPS+, and is valuable as a bench player. He started this season with one hit in his first nine at-bats.
When he came up in the sixth inning, the Padres defense was playing deep — and Dubon realized that if he got a good bunt down, he could beat it out for a single. So he laid down an outstanding bunt and there wasn’t even a play. He had his second hit of the season.
And within seconds he caught an earful from Padres’ first baseman Eric Hosmer. You see, sports fans, according to the unwritten rules of baseball, you’re not supposed to bunt when your team leads by nine runs.* Hosmer apparently explained this to Dubon by using his words, some of them not four letters long, and the Padres bench apparently bellowed and, if they’d had handkerchiefs available, might have waved them while fainting at this baseball faux pas.
Padres manager Bob Melvin stewed the way a Bond villain does after having 007 foil his plans and undoubtedly was already plotting his revenge: “You won this round, Mr. Bond, but we shall meet again!”
*You’re also not supposed to swing 3-0, you’re also not supposed to swing big for home runs, you’re also not supposed to steal a base, you’re also not supposed to take the extra base on the basepaths, you’re also not supposed to celebrate too vigorously, you’re also not supposed to wear a straw hat after labor day, you’re also not supposed to give chrysanthemums to people in France as a gift, you’re also not supposed to …
In real-time, it appeared like maybe Giants’ manager Gabe Kapler might have agreed with the Padres … he pulled Dubon aside as if lecturing him about the right and wrong way to play baseball. It probably appeared that way because we have gotten used to managers like Tony La Russa or Don Mattingly blasting their own players for not following some inane and ridiculous baseball guideline like “don’t bunt with a nine-run lead.”
But as it turns out, Kapler WAS NOT lecturing his player. He was instead — and this is something fun and new — SUPPORTING his player.
See, Kapler realizes that this unwritten rule — like pretty much all of them — is just stupid. From a logic vantage point, it’s stupid because the game was only in the sixth inning — if you’re going to demand players not give their all once their team is up by a few runs, then go ahead and just put in a mercy rule and end the game.
“The pitchers are trying to get Mauricio out,” Kapler would say after the game. “Mauricio is trying to get on base. The goal of baseball is to not make an out.”
Yeah, that sums it up pretty well.
But even from a competitive baseball perspective, the unwritten rule is incredibly stupid too. Let’s just say that with the Giants up nine runs, the game was essentially over and so bunting for a single is just rubbing it in — I don’t buy this at all, but let’s just say that’s true to debate the point.
So what? The Giants are not just trying to win one game against the Padres. They’re trying to win the series. They’re trying to win the division. So even if Dubon’s bunt single isn’t necessary to win this game, it just might force Melvin to bring in an extra reliever, which might make one more pitcher unavailable for tomorrow’s game, which might give the Giants just a little bit better chance of winning tomorrow’s game.
And if the Padres win tomorrow’s game, they win the series, and then the third game would be for a sweep. And a sweep could be the difference in the division.
You see where this is going? Just play baseball. Up nine runs, down nine runs, so what? Just play. If you want to rest your starters in a blowout, go ahead. If you want to save your best relievers when you’re losing badly, go ahead. But quit whining about players doing smart and effective and winning baseball things just because of the scoreboard. If the Padres actually throw a baseball at Dubon for trying his best, there should be suspensions galore. Let’s go ahead and make that a written rule.