La Russa defends bunt during sixth-inning rally in Sox loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
One bunt does not a ballgame make.
But fans zeroed in on a bunt call that slowed down a sixth-inning rally in the Chicago White Sox loss Saturday afternoon.
The White Sox trailed 4-1 thanks to Lucas Giolito surrendering a trio of home runs to the visiting Detroit Tigers. But within striking distance, it didn't seem like it would take much for the first-place White Sox to surpass the cellar-dwelling Tigers, and some instant offense against former mate Derek Holland backed that idea up.
The White Sox started their half of the sixth inning with a Yasmani Grandal single, an Andrew Vaughn double and a Jake Lamb double, the last of those knocks driving in two runs to make it a one-run game. After Zack Collins walked, manager Tony La Russa called for a sacrifice bunt from Danny Mendick, and it didn't work, the play ending with a force out at third base. Two groundouts followed, and the rally came to a close, the 4-3 score holding on as the final.
Sacrifice bunts, in general, are a constantly hot topic among many fans, regardless of the time and situation they're deployed. But in the middle of a rally, the furor at La Russa's call was amped up on social media.
After the game, the South Side skipper, who's one win away from becoming the second winningest manager in baseball history, stood by his decision.
"What was the score at the time? 4-3? Is the tying run on second base and the go-ahead run at first? And if he bunts them over, you've got (Tim) Anderson and (Nick) Madrigal?" La Russa said. "I think that's the play.
"Make of it whatever you want to. That's one good thing about watching the game, you know what my strategy was. ... I felt really good about bunting them over."
Certainly, with the way a significant number of fans have felt about his hiring from Day 1, La Russa's decision-making has been under a magnifying glass all season long, and he's expressed disappointment that he's drawn so much attention while his team sits in first place in the American League Central and stands as one of the game's true championship contenders.
Indeed, the White Sox were all over Holland, with the first four batters he faced reaching base and three of those getting hits. It's the second time this season they've had the former South Sider's number, tagging him for four runs in a no-out performance April 29. To lay down the bunt, by definition giving a struggling pitcher an out, broke up that momentum.
But at the same time, La Russa is absolutely right that the first two hitters in his batting order should be expected to convert in that situation. Ground outs by Anderson and Madrigal came with runners in scoring position, as well, and nothing more than a poke to the outfield off the bat of either hitter would have tied the game.
By a similar token, the White Sox couldn't touch the Tigers' bullpen in either of the other three innings it pitched Saturday. While starting pitcher Tarik Skubal didn't allow much — another example that there's something building, from a pitching standpoint, in Detroit — the Tigers' 'pen came into Saturday's game with a 5.28 ERA, something a contending lineup like the White Sox should've been able to take advantage of.
None of that's to say the bunt was 100 percent the correct call. It's to say that a nine-inning game is made up of more than one moment.
"I gave up three homers," Giolito said. "Can't let that happen."