“Whatever it takes to win”

Kike Hernandez (center, hatless) surrounded by Red Sox teammates after his walk-off sacrifice fly sealed their trip to the American League Championship Series.

Well, the Rays only thought their rather decisive first-game win in this now-concluded American League division series meant the beginning of another deep postseason trip. Who knew it would prove to be just the last win of the year for the American League’s winningest regular season team?

Come to think of it, a lot of people only thought the Red Sox’s apparent disarray in enough of the regular season, including their final home set while the Yankees swept them, and in losing two of three to the Orioles before sweeping the also-ran re-tooling Nationals to finish the schedule?

The Rays won the AL East decisively, and with the best regular-season record in franchise history. The Red Sox had to wrestle their way into the wild card game before beating the Yankees in a game featuring the sort of thing happening to the Empire Emeritus that used to mean surrealistic disaster for the Olde Towne Team.

Lovely way to send the Yankees home, many must have thought, but oh, are they going to feel it when the Rays get hold of them.

The only thing the Red Sox must feel now is that their postseason work has only just begun. But if the ways they shook off that Game One 5-0 loss to take the next three from the Rays are any indication, they’re about as up to the task as any formerly buffeted team awaiting their American League Championship Series opponent can be.

They live by the team play motto to such a fare-thee-well that you can suggest any given one will sacrifice for the good of the team—which makes it so appropriate that they finally won this division series with . . . a sacrifice fly.

Lose a 2-0 top of the first Game Two lead to a grand salami in the bottom of that inning? “No panic,” said manager Alex Cora. No panic—and allow only one more Tampa Bay run while turning that quick-as-you-please 5-2 deficit into a 14-6 blowout.

Lose a 6-2 Game Three lead on an eighth-inning leadoff homer by Rays rookie star Wander Franco and a two-out RBI double by not-too-young Rays rookie star Randy Arozarena, then have to ride a Phillies throwaway named Nick Pivetta for four extra innings? No sweat—just let Christian Vazquez rip a one-out two-run homer into the Green Monster seats in the bottom of the thirteenth and win, 6-4.

Blow a 5-0 Game Four lead off a five-run third crowned by Rafael Devers sending a three-run homer over Fenway Park’s second-highest wall and into the center field seats? We do this kinda stuff to them all through the picture. Just let Kike Hernandez say thank you to the nice Rays for not putting him on to load the bases for an any place/any time/extra-innings ticket double play—by banging the game and set-winning sacrifice fly short of the left center field track.

“I mean, here we are surprising everybody but ourselves,” said Hernandez post-game, once he escaped drowning in the Red Sox celebration. “We knew in spring training we had the team to make it this far and here we are.”

Well, the Red Sox did lead the entire Show in comeback wins during the regular season. They also managed a rather impressive .591 winning percentage in one-run games. But they also suffered a 12-16 August that wasn’t necessarily as disastrous as some other Augusts by some other teams this year. (Hello, Mess—er, Mets.) Between injuries, COVID-19 illnesses, and assorted other mishaps. nobody else seemed to remember if they knew what Hernandez said the Red Sox knew last spring.

Surprising everybody but themselves? Sure. Let’s buy into that despite the Red Sox trailing in three of these four division series games. Let’s buy into that despite the Red Sox having to win twice in their final plate appearances. Let’s buy into that despite an ankle-compromised designated hitter, a second baseman getting his first daily plate appearances in around three months, and pulling a hutch of rabbits out of their hats.

Well, guess what? You’ve probably bought into more improbabilities than those in your lives as baseball fans, observers, writers. If you speculated on the Red Sox’s apparent pitching goulash out-pitching the Rays’ more obvious pitching depth going in? You ought to think about buying lottery tickets in every state that offers them.

If you bought into Garrett Whitlock, a find on the Rule 5 minor league draft heap, pitching no-hit, no-run relief for the final two Game Four innings and becoming the Red Sox’s highest-leverage bullpen bull, forget the lottery? You ought to be investing on Wall Street. You can’t lose. Yet.

If you bought into Jordan Luplow doubling and scoring in the fifth, Franco abusing Red Sox reliever Tanner Houck for a two-run homer in the sixth, and Kevin Kiermaier whacked an RBI double ahead of Arozarena whacking a two-run double to tie things at five in the eighth? You ought to seed the advent of Jetsons-style flying cars.

But if you bought into Game Three hero Vazquez leading off the Red Sox ninth with a base hit, Christian Arroyo sneaking a sacrifice bunt to the short right of the first base line, pinch hitter Travis Shaw slow bouncing a tough hopper toward third that wouldn’t get him in time at first, then taking second on defensive indifference with Hernandez at the plate? That’s beyond my pay grade, too.

Why didn’t Cash put Hernandez on with one out? He wasn’t really about to load the pads for Devers and be forced to prayer that he could get away with it. Devers already had three hits on the night. With the winning run already ninety fee from scoring, putting Hernandez aboard would have meant only the possibility of having put the insult-adding-to-injury run on base.

So Cash trusted his reliever J.P. Feyereisen to take care of Hernandez. The first pitch tied Hernandez up by sailing up and in tight on the Red Sox center fielder. The next pitch sailed into Austin Meadows’s glove in left center, too far back to keep pinch-runner Danny Santana from sailing home with the Red Sox’s ALCS tickets punched.

“It was quick,” Feyereisen said postgame, and he could have been talking the series as well as the end of Game Four. “I think that’s one of the main things when we sat down, like, ‘Wow, I didn’t think it was gonna be over this quickly’. We felt good. We played some good games. You come in here, especially with this atmosphere with these [Fenway] crowds and two walk-off wins, that’s tough.”

What was even more tough for the Rays is that, all series long, they struck out 46 times at the plate to the Red Sox’s 23—and that includes 20 Rays strikeouts in Game Three’s thirteen-inning theater. By contrast, the Red Sox picked up from being shut out in Game One to hit .364 with nine home runs in Games Two through Four and delivered 56 hits the entire set.

The Rays’ wounding offensive flaw, being Three True Outcomes enough all year long, bit their heads off in the division series. They hit seven homers and ten doubles but had a collective .211 team batting average all set long. They’ll have to figure out how to improve their overall contact without sacrificing their impressive power.

They’re young, they’re deep, they’re they’re tenacious, they’re a model of resourcefulness despite their limited dollars. Their championship window isn’t being boarded up just yet.

Their farm is considered deep and still promising. They’ve got their own kind of guts, playing and pitching rookies in the postseason as if it was the natural thing to do. Even if it was borne of the unpleasant necessities delivered by injuries, near-habitual turnover, and in-season moves that didn’t work. The rooks—shortstop Franco, pitchers Shane McClanahan and Luis Patino in particular—showed heart beyond their years even in defeat.

Yes, it’s tough to remember Arozarena was still a rookie this season, technically. His coming-out part last postseason took care of that, and he shone like a well-established veteran this time around. From homering and stealing home in Game One through two hits and that Game Four-tying hit in the eighth, Arozarena was a rookie in name only this year.

Losing righthander Tyler Glasnow to Tommy John surgery was probably the key blow to the Rays in the end. Free-agent veteran Michael Wacha took a 5.05 regular season ERA into the postseason . . . and allowed a mere two-run deficit to turn into that 14-6 Game Two blowout in two and two thirds innings. One more veteran other than Game Four opener Collin McHugh might have made a big difference.

The Red Sox are just as conscious of analytics as any other team so advanced, including the Rays who practically live by it. But they’re a lot better in balancing analytics to the moment. Cora is as much an advance information maven as any skipper in baseball, but he’s also unafraid to shift his cards and play to what’s in front of him when it’s demanded of him.

He doesn’t play October baseball like the regular season. If he did, he wouldn’t have gone to eight postseason series as a manager or a bench coach and been on the winning side in each of them. He’s not afraid to take risks, he doesn’t sweat it if and when they backfire.

“That’s our motto right now: Whatever it takes to win,” said Hernandez. “Just win today, and we’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. Lineup, bullpen, starting rotation, like, it doesn’t matter. We’re a team, and we’re one. We’re not 26 dudes, we’re just one.” Lucky for them the Red Sox aren’t out of tomorrows just yet.

Cora’s Game Four starting pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez—lifted after an inning and two thirds in Game One following that first-inning disaster, but pitching shutout ball until Luplow scored on a ground out in the fifth, then coming out after Kiermaier doubled to open the sixth—calls Cora “like a father, brother, manager, whatever. He trusts us. He trusts everybody in that clubhouse. He gives you the chance every time that he hands (the ball) to you, and you’ve just got to go out there and do your job.”

“He’s a guy you’d run through a wall for,” said Whitlock. “If he told me to run through that wall, I’d believe that he had something there to make sure it would fall for me.”

It turned out the Rays wall wasn’t quite as sturdy as everyone else thought going in. The Red Sox have sturdier walls to face going forward. Walls that won’t be as friendly to them as the Green Monster seems to be.

Off the wall in Fenway Park

Christian Vazquez

Christian Vazquez’s walk-off bomb should have been the co-story of Game Three with Nick Pivetta’s stout four extra innings’ shutout relief. But no . . .

You could hear the blue-murder screaming even before Christian Vazquez ended American League division series Game Three in the bottom of the thirteenth. You could hear furious Rays fans and sympathisers thinking Game Four deserves no shorter justice than the Red Sox getting killed to death.

They saw Vazquez hit a two-run homer, igniting a berserk celebration around all Fenway Park, and thought to themselves before hollering loud and long, We wuz robbed!!! They probably still think so.

They think the Rays should have come out of the top of the thirteenth with a 5-4 lead, the run scored from first by Yandy Diaz off Kevin Kiermaier’s two-out double against Red Sox reliever Nick Pivetta. That thought would have been wholly reasonable—except for the umpires calling for a rules review, ruling ground-rule double, and thus ruling Diaz back to third base.

The problem was Kiermaier’s drive bounced off the right field wall, off the track, then off Red Sox right fielder Hunter Renfroe and over the wall. Official Rule 5.05(a)(8) spells out the wherefore: If a fair ball not in flight is deflected by a fielder and then goes out of play, the award is two bases from the time of that pitch.

Rule 5.05(a)8 distinguishes between intent and lack of intent. Had Renfroe actually tried and succeeded in deflecting the ball over the wall, Diaz would have been awarded home because he’d passed second base just as the ball ricocheted off Renfroe’s thigh over the wall. But Renfroe never touched the ball with either hand.

Postgame, Kiermaier remained in abject disbelief. “I can’t believe that happened or we don’t get the chance to score right there,” the Rays center fielder said. “For one, I crushed that ball. I was hoping to leave the yard. I got a lot of snap and crackle but no pop. First and foremost, for that to happen right there, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Even the Red Sox didn’t know what to think at first.

“I’ve never seen that before in my life,” said center fielder Kike Hernandez, whose fifth-inning homer put the Red Sox up 4-2. “I wasn’t sure what was going to get called. I wasn’t sure if the runners had to return. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be like an errant throw where the runner would get two bags. Like I had no idea.”

It made sense to home plate umpire Sam Holbrook after the review mandated the ground-rule double ruling. “Very simple,” the ump said. “From an umpire’s standpoint, very simple textbook in the rule.”

Maybe the rule should be reviewed and changed, maybe it shouldn’t, if you consider intent paramount on a play that was so freakish in the first place. But within its strict letter, lacking verifiable intent on Renfroe’s part, Kiermaier indeed had to settle for the ground rule double and Diaz indeed had to return to third.

The game remained tied at four. Red Sox reliever Nick Pivetta recovered to finish his fourth inning worth of three-hit, no-run, seven-strikeout relief. Rays fans may consider it having added insult to insulting injury when Renfroe himself held on for the full-count walk with one out in the bottom of the thirteenth.

Then Vazquez—who’d only come into the game as a pinch-hitter for his catching predecessor Kevin Plawecki in the sixth—caught hold of Rays reliever Luis Patino’s first offering and sent it into the Monster seats above left center for the 6-4 Red Sox win. If the would-have-been Diaz run had held up, it would have meant the Rays losing by a single run instead of two.

In a game about which it was entirely fair to say it would be a shame for either side to lose, the Rays wrestled back from a 4-2 deficit in the top of the eighth off Red Sox reliever Hansel Robles. Wander Franco hit a 3-1 fastball down the chute for a leadoff homer over the Monster; Randy Arozarena with two outs doubled pinch-runner Manuel Margot home.

Before that, the Rays re-learned how stingy Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi can be after he gets touched up in the beginning. Once Austin Meadows parked a one-out two-run homer into the bullpens in the top of the first, Eovaldi went forward to pitch shutout ball the next four-and-a-third innings.

The Red Sox chased Rays starter Drew Rasmussen with three straight singles in the third, including Hernandez sending leadoff singler Christian Arroyo home with the tying run at two. Josh Fleming relieved Rasmussen and Rafael Devers greeted him with an RBI single up the pipe to put the Red Sox up, 3-2.

After Hernandez’s leadoff yank into the Monster seats off Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks to open the fifth, and the Rays tied things at four in the eighth, Game Three’s big story figured to be Pivetta. His stout extra-innings shutout relief reminded observers of Eovaldi’s own bullpen-saving, six innings stout relief in that marathon Game Three of the 2018 World Series.

Pivetta’s outing probably changed Red Sox manager Alex Cora’s plan to start him in Game Four. After Sunday night’s win Cora probably won’t complain too much. He’d said previously that whatever the plan going in the game itself would govern the moves and the changes. When he needed a stopper before the Rays got any more ornery than tying the game at four, he picked the right man for the job.

Don’t blame the ground-rule double for costing the Rays Game Three. The Red Sox led each of the first six innings off with a man reaching base. The Rays’ none-too-shabby lineup struck out twenty times and worked only four walks. They had one hit in nine opportunities with runners in scoring position.

Don’t use it to steal Vasquez’s big moment, either. The moment in which he became only the fifth catcher in Show history to end an extra-inning postseason game with a walk-off home run. The other three: Carlton Fisk (Game Six, 1975 World Series), Tony Pena (1995 AL division series Game One), Jim Leyritz (1995 AL division series Game Two), and Todd Pratt (1999 National League divison series Game One).

The moment, too, in which he hit the sixth postseason walkoff bomb in Red Sox history, joining Fisk, Manny Ramirez (Game Two, 2007 ALDS), David Ortiz (Game Four, 2004 American League Championship Series; Game Three, 2004 ALDS), and Trot Nixon (Game Three, 2003 ALDS).

“There’s no, ‘He would have done this, would have done that’,” Holbrook said. “It’s just flat-out in the rule book, it’s a ground-rule double.” Though even Holbrook couldn’t remember having seen any similar play in the quarter century he’s been a major league umpire.

But this was not Don Denkinger absolutely blowing what should have been an out call to start the bottom of the ninth of Game Six, 1985 World Series. A blown call that infuriated those Cardinals so much that, after the Royals forced Game Seven and the umpire rotation placed Denkinger behind the plate for it, the Cardinals imploded almost completely to lose that Series.

These Rays are made of far better stuff than that. These Red Sox know it. The Red Sox now stand on the threshold of going to the American League Championship Series, but they won’t kid themselves that the Rays will be pushovers. Neither should you.

Arozarobber

Randy Arozarena

Quick on the overshift uptake, Randy Arozarena stole home straight up Thursday night. Yogi Bear never had it that simple stealing picnic baskets.

There are and have been men playing baseball who love their secondary skills almost more than they love what usually earns their keep. Randy Arozarena, Rays outfielder and batter extraordinaire, is one of those men. He can hit around the field and for distance, but he loves to run.

Give him an inch, or an abandoned side of an infield, and Arozarena’s more than happy do his part to turn a baseball game, even Game One of an American League division series, into a track meet. Give him almost all the third base side of the infield while he’s on third, and he’ll add grand theft home plate to his pleasures.

It’s not that he gets away with it every time he breaks out of his gates on the bases. He tied the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani for the American League lead in arrests for attempted theft with ten. As thieves go, Arozarena had a 67 percent success rate on the regular season. Rickey Henderson he ain’t. Yet.

The one that mattered most was the job Arozarena pulled in the bottom of the seventh Thursday night, after wringing a two-out, full-count walk from Red Sox reliever Nick Pavetta and taking third when Wander Franco doubled right behind him. Then the Red Sox shifted to the right side and brought lefthanded reliever Josh Taylor in to face lefthanded-hitting Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe.

With Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers playing in the proper shortstop location dead center between second and third, Arozarena might as well have been wandering into the Next-to-Last National Bank and discovering security officers sound asleep before sliding his stick-’em-up demand through the teller window.

Taylor seemed almost wholly oblivious to Arozarena ambling almost halfway down the third base line as he concentrated on Lowe at the plate. Apparently, the Rays’ advance scouting secured that tendency to use as opportunity presented itself. But Arozarena also read the room on his own and smelled the opportunity in front of him.

Maybe with two outs Taylor also felt there was no way Arozarena would be that brazen. Lowe fouled a 1-2 pitch straight back out of play. Taylor leaned in for his signs, straightened back up to throw—and Arozarena bolted for home the split moment Taylor came set in the stretch.

Yogi Bear never had that simple a time stealing picnic baskets in Jellystone Park.

“I noticed that the pitcher wasn’t really watching for me or covering for me,” Arozarena said postgame, “and I saw the third baseman was pretty far away in respect to where I was at. I was looking over to [third-base coach Rodney] Linares, telling him, ‘Hey, I’m going to go. I’m going to go.’ Peeked over and saw Cash give him the green light as well, so that’s when I decided to take off.”

Lowe stepped back out of the box as Arozarena hit the jets, and Taylor just cranked and threw home fast and futilely. Red Sox catcher Christian Vasquez had no chance as he sprang afront the plate to take the throw, wheeling around back on his knees to tag.

He’d have had a better chance apprehending John Dillinger without a pistol and handcuffs than he had when Arozarena shot across the plate in a safe dive—almost like Michael Phelps hitting the pool for yet another Olympic gold medal.

What looked in the moment like Arozarena just showing himself off—this is his second postseason and he already had ten postseason home runs plus an American League Championship Series MVP on his resume—proved insurance after all in the 5-0 Rays win.

That’s because the Red Sox were barely recovered from Arozarena’s heist when they suddenly loaded the bases in the top of the eighth on a leadoff single and a pair of one-out base hits bringing Rafael Devers to the plate against Rays reliever J.P. Feyereisen. One swing and the Red Sox might have been back in business, at maximum with their deficit cut to a single run.

But Feyereisen struck Devers out swinging on 1-2. He got former Ray Hunter Renfroe to foul out to first for the side. Then both sides went quietly in the bottom of the eighth and the top of the ninth.

Taylor didn’t comment after the game but Red Sox manager Alex Cora did. ““I think JT was actually paying attention,” Cora said of Taylor and the Arozarena theft, “but probably two strikes, he had Lowe with two strikes and probably the concentration was with the hitter. Just put him away, and Randy had an amazing job.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash credited Arozarena’s room reading. “We don’t practice that,” Cash said of the theft. “The game has evolved to where defending the hitter is so important. We do the same thing. It’s not the most comfortable thing in the world to pull the third baseman off, certainly with a left-handed pitcher who can’t see everything. But it ultimately comes down to his decision-making and his ability to react.”

Except that, between such things as thinking players dropping bunts for free base hits onto the open expanses and thinking thieves like Arozarena accepting when handed that big a larceny invitation, maybe those defensive overshifts might begin dissipating at last.

The Red Sox erred in handing Arozarena that much leeway even trying to defend against Lowe. They couldn’t afford that on a night they swung futilely against four Rays pitchers including rookie starter Shane McClanahan, who went five scoreless scattering five hits while the Red Sox went 1-for-7 with men in scoring position on the night.

And, on a night the Rays pecked and powered their way to the division series-opening win against Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez (who lasted only five outs) and Pivetta (Arozarena’s home steal went on Pivetta’s jacket), with three other Red Sox relievers plus the Rays’ stingy defense keeping them off the board despite more than a few hard hit balls.

My command wasn’t great at all on every pitch,” Rodriguez said postgame about Cora’s decision to pull him in the second inning. “So I’m not surprised. This is the playoffs. And you’ve got to go out there and do your job. If you don’t do it, you’re coming out of the game.”

It doesn’t look as good as you might think for the Red Sox in Game Two, either. Oh, you might think they’ll be back on track with Chris Sale scheduled to start, but Sale hasn’t prevailed against the Rays all year long.

With one theft of home Arozarena also came close to wiping out the memory of what he did to lead off the bottom of the fifth, swinging on a full count and sending Pavetta’s fastball just off the middle into the left field seats for the fourth Rays run. Making Arozarena the first man ever to hit one out and steal the plate in the same postseason game.

Pinocchio, you’re a real man now.

Arozarena’s come very far from that fateful October 2019 afternoon when, as a member of the Cardinals, he foolishly videoed Mike Schildt’s sore-winner rant and sent it viral enough, after those Cardinals blew the Braves right out of that postseason—only to get bludgeoned out themselves by the eventual World Series champion Nationals.

Three months later, the Cardinals traded Arozarena with Jose Martinez to the Rays for a couple of minor league spare parts. Martinez was supposed to be the big catch. But he faltered in the pan-damn-ically short 2020 season, after missing most of “summer camp” with COVID-19 himself, before the Rays dealt him to the Cubs at that year’s trade deadline.

I don’t know if the viral video—which he took down almost as fast as it went viral—helped compel the Cardinals to throw Arozarena in on that deal as much as their surplus of outfielders in the organisation did. But the Rays have no complaints yet.

He’s become their Mr. October. He’s picked up right where he left off last postseason. The only shock now would be if the Red Sox aren’t tempted heavily to swear out a warrant for his arrest on charges of grand theft.

No bunts about it

Joey Gallo

This is the way to bunt—not wasting an out to move runners who aren’t as likely to score from there as you think,  but for a base hit . . . especially when you’re handed enough free real estate to build the Ponderosa upon. Pushing a man on third home? Gravy.

If it isn’t in the textbooks yet, it should be. And it was executed by a man considered far and wide enough as maybe the single most classic avatar of the big bomb/big strikeout/ big nothing-much-else hitter seen, often incorrectly, as the typical major league hitter of today.

With the Rays putting a now-classic defensive overshift to the right side, and Giancarlo Stanton on third with one out in the ninth, lefthanded Yankee bombardier-or-bust Joey Gallo faced Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge. The split second Kittredge began to throw the ball, Gallo dropped out of his power stance and showed bunt.

He put the bat on the ball. It shot hopping up the third base line, onto and through that entire unoccupied expanse of yummy free real estate, pushing Stanton home and threatening to leave the American League East-champion Rays with an omelette on their faces en route a potential last-minute loss.

Gallo’s sneak attack cut a Yankee deficit exactly in half, to 4-2. Gio Urshela singled to right almost at once, Brett Gardner singled Gallo home, and it looked for the moment like the Yankees would hang on a little more firmly in the wild card race if they could push just two more in.

Not quite. Kittredge ironed up and struck out Gary Sanchez and Rougned Odor (that little stinker) back to back for the side and for the hard-secured 4-3 Rays win. With the Red Sox holding on to beat the Nationals in Washington, 4-2, the Yankee advantage for the first American League wild card fell back to one over the Red Sox.

But Gallo struck a blow on behalf of every baseball watcher and analyst who’s fed up to the proverbial teeth with the yammering from the Old Fart Contingency demanding what just about amounts to a return to dead-ball baseball. The contingency that forgets, assuming it ever really understood in the first place, that under customary circumstances sacrifice. bunts. waste. outs.

Especially when you’re up against the number one scoring team in the league.

You’d only think that the out-wasting sac bunt would do your team a big favour by pushing a runner or two forward and making it easier to score. But you really have to watch the game more closely to see the actuality. Keith Law (in Smart Baseball) saw it, tabled it, and probably ran a few temperatures up the scale.

There are six common scenarios in which you’d see a sac bunt. Here they are, with the actual result and value, the probability or scoring at least one run or more before the bunt, and the probability of scoring at least one run or more after that bunt. (I’ve indicated it with RP.) Law’s tabulation comes from the 2015 season, but it’s generally applicable—give or take a percentage of a percentage point—in just about any season:

Bunt Situation Pre-bunt RP Post-bunt RP Better/Worse Off?
Man on first, 0 out 0.50 0.45 Worse
Man on first, 1 out 0.36 0.26 Worse
Man on second, 0 out 0.66 0.67 Push
Man on second, 1 out 0.45 0.27 Worse
Men on first and second, 0 out 0.65 0.70 Better
Men on first and second, 1 out 0.45 0.26 Worse

Think about that. Six possible sacrifice bunt situations and four of the six leave a team worse off, one leaves them better off, and one is pick ’em at best. With the best case scenario being a sac bunt with first and second and nobody out.

Gallo wasn’t batting in any of those situations Friday night. He had a man on third with one out—and absolutely no Rays infielder on the left side of second base. The third base ump or the Yankee third base coach each had a better chance of fielding Gallo’s sneaky squirt than any Ray did. The Cartwright boys could have built the Ponderosa with room to spare.

One showing of video from the play says, and I quote, “Joey Gallo singles on a bunt ground ball to third baseman Yandy Diaz. Giancarlo Stanton scores.” It would be accurate if Diaz was actually playing third base proper in the moment.

Diaz was in a fourth-outfielder array for the shift. Second baseman Joey Wendle came running over from about half a mile beyond second base, unable to do anything more than watch the ball pass the infield grass and the infield dirt on the third base side, before he finally caught up to it on the extremely short left field grass. The Feds had an easier time nailing Al Capone than Diaz would have had nailing Gallo at first.

It would have been sweet justice if the Yankees had followed up properly and done right by their too-often-shortfalling import bombardier. (They acquired Gallo from the Rangers at the trade deadline.) And it’s not as though Gallo is exactly virginal with such a play.

He’s done it before. A few times. One was a near-equal to the beauty he nudged Friday night: on 25 April, leading off the bottom of the second, against the Athletics. This time it was Kendall Graveman on the mound and Gallo facing the first pitch of the inning.

Again, Gallo dropped out of his normal stance the moment Graveman actually began to throw. Again, he pushed a bunt the other way, even slower and closer to the third base line. Graveman scampered to get the ball sliding almost onto the line but couldn’t throw Gallo out in time. (The Rangers didn’t score in the inning but went on to win, 4-2.)

Now, Gallo could have tried swinging for the Grand Concourse against Kittredge. He’s only faced him once and made an out; it’s not as though Kittredge owned a particularly fat file against him. But he saw Stanton on third, the entire left side about as crowded as a desert, and a chance to sneak shrink the Yankee deficit by half in a game the Yankees absolutely had to win.

It wasn’t Gallo’s fault the Yankees got only one run to follow his ploy RBI. But it should open the eyes of every batter and manager despairing of reducing the overshifts to periodic elements rather than semi-permanent table options.

The only thing wrong with Gallo’s kind of bunt is that more of those batters and managers don’t think of it more often. But, boy, they’ll still think about wasting outs with those mostly futile sacrifice bunts now and then. You tell me what’s wrong with that picture.

The Padres shop at Woolworth Bay and Tiffany-Mart

Yu’re kidding, right?

They may not necessarily shoot the wounded in baseball, not much, anyway. But show me one or two teams hurting actually or allegedly and I’ll show you one team standing ready with a bag of salt for those wounds.

The American League champion Tampa Bay Rays prefer to continue as baseball’s version of Woolworth’s, a bargain-basement store with a bargain-basement approach. The Chicago Cubs seem to prefer being Tiffany on the outside but Wal-Mart on the floor inside. The San Diego Padres don’t mind going to either store.

The Padres went to Woolworth’s and spent a pair of major league youths and minor league prospects to walk home with lefthanded pitcher Blake Snell—last seen pitching in the 2020 World Series, of course. He’ll have elite rotation company in San Diego silks for 2021, too.

The Rays also went to Tiffany-Mart and tricked a salesperson into taking a moderately successful major leaguer and four teen prospects several years from maturity for the privilege of walking home with righthander Yu Darvish and his personal catcher Victor [Beta] Caratini.

In both transactions the Padres came away with gems. In one they surrendered a pair of young Showmen who could go either way and a couple of minor leaguers who could go likewise. In the other, they fleeced in broad daylight as it’s become more evident that, whatever the Cubs want to call it, there’s something suspicious in Wrigleyville.

“This,” tweeted ESPN’s Buster Olney, “is what a salary dump in a pandemic looks like. The Cubs aimed to transfer debt.

Debt? The gigarich Ricketts family? Let’s give them the momentary benefit of the doubt, as Bleed Cubbie Blue writer Sara Sanchez is willing to do for a moment. “The pandemic hit just as the Wrigley Field renovation, the team’s investments in Wrigleyville, and Marquee Sports Network came together,” she writes. “Everything was finally open for business to recoup some of the estimated $750 million the Ricketts family had invested in the neighborhood – and then, it was all shut down.”

Then, she says, more or less, halt right there: “Let’s not kid ourselves — neither the Ricketts nor anyone else in baseball has opened their books, which is unlikely to change in the near future, and none of us know if those losses are actual losses or just falling short of projected revenue . . .”

[W]hether you believe the Ricketts’ claim that they had actual losses, or the [Major League Baseball Players Association]’s claim that those are projected revenue losses, it really doesn’t matter because the front office has clearly been given a mandate to shed costs. It does not matter that you cannot balance a multi-hundred million (or billion, as Kaplan claims) dollar loss on the backs of peanut vendors or even Cy Young contenders. Believing in that financial frame is how you get a deal like this.

FanGraphs’s Craig Edwards is a little more blunt, in an essay titled “Padres give up prospects for Yu Darvish while the Cubs give up”: “[W]hile even a Darvish-less Chicago should still contend in a weak NL Central, there are only two players on the roster under team control beyond next season who project to be worth more than two wins: [pitcher Kyle] Hendricks, who turned 31 last week, and [outfielder] Ian Happ. The Cubs’ payroll for next season has now dropped below $140 million with no signs that ownership plans on increasing it; if there is another championship window on the horizon, it’s unclear when it will open.”

The Rays have been such a basement operation that some wags believe they’ve been living on salary dumping or at least taking to extremes the time-tested maxim that it’s better to deal a year or two too soon than a year or two too late. But it doesn’t get them off the hook entirely for dealing a former Cy Young Award winner to the team that promptly hit Tiffany-Mart and snatched what some call the National League’s should-have-been 2020 Cy Young Award winner.

Trading Snell, The Athletic‘s Keith Law writes, “only further underscores the fact that the situation in St. Petersburg is untenable.”

The team’s owner will not spend on players. He has said the stadium situation is the cause, limiting their revenues, and that argument has some merit; they don’t draw, and the stadium — ugly and hard to access — is at least a large part of their problem. Perhaps a new stadium on the Tampa side of the bay would help, but the team and/or MLB would have to pay for it — as they should, since it would profit the Rays and indirectly profit the league as a whole (or at least the teams that pay into revenue sharing). Perhaps they need to relocate to Nashville or Portland. But the current situation isn’t working. The Rays went to the World Series and immediately traded their best pitcher, a recent Cy Young winner, rather than paying him what amounts to fourth starter money in 2021. The MLBPA shouldn’t stand idly by and watch one of the few employers of major-league players all but refuse to pay them major-league salaries. The Rays made a damn good baseball trade here, but baseball is worse off for it.

Law isn’t exactly kinder or gentler about the Cubs dumping their best pitcher and his personal catcher, either. “Why the Cubs are operating on a shoestring is beyond me,” he writes, “but I can’t believe this was a baseball operations decision.”

It was likely forced by ownership, even though the Cubs were a playoff team this past season and had a very good chance to be a playoff team in 2021, even with their offensive flaws. This move makes them less expensive but not better now, and not better for several more years. What a swift, shocking fall for a team that less than five years ago seemed primed to compete for not just one but multiple championships.

And what a clearer picture it presents as to why Theo Epstein took a hike toward taking 2021 off to regroup himself.

Which isn’t to say that the Padres aren’t rolling some serious dice of their own, of course. Walking home from the shopping spree with Snell and Darvish has legions of fans drooling over the possiblity that the world champion Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t the only powerhouse in the National League West now.

But the Padres have been there, done that before, and not necessarily come up smelling as sweet as the San Diego waterfront air. They may be behaving like a West Coast discipleship of the New York Yankees, but even the Empire Emertus hasn’t been immune to big moves imploding on them, either.

Remember 2015? Padres acquired James Shields and Craig Kimbrel to go with additions of [Wil] Myers, [Matt] Kemp, & [Justin] Upton,” reminds Halo Life, a blog customarily dedicated to the Los Angeles Angels. “Big moves at the time. They were the talk of the winter. 74-88 record following season.” Halo Life says, Deja vu. It says here we’ll know when we get there.