by Harold Friend
The New York Yankees defeated the defending American League champion Tampa Bay Rays on April 14 in the second game of a three game set in Tampa, 7.2. The key play of the game came on a 3-0 pitch to Pat Burrell with Rays runners on first and third and no outs in the seventh inning.
Runners of First and Third With No Outs
Yankees' starter A.J. Burnett had held the Rays hitless through the first six innings and was protecting a slim 2-0 lead when Carl Crawford, leading off the inning, fouled off Burnett's first 5 pitches and then sliced a single to left field. Evan Longoria followed with a single to left, moving Crawford to second, after which Carlos Pena lashed a hit to right field for a single, scoring Crawford and moving Longoria to third with the potential tying run.
Pat Burrell's Sacrifice Fly Tied the Game
Pat Burrell was the batter. Burnett fell behind Burrell, 3-0. The former Phillies' outfielder, who averages 157 strikeouts a season, swung at Burnett's 3-0 pitch and lifted a fly ball to right field that scored Longoria from third to tie the game. Dioner Navarro struck out, and with Ben Zobrist at the plate, catcher Jose Molina nabbed Pena off first to end the inning.
An .817 Slugging Average on 3-1
There is no right or wrong move with respect to whether Burrell should have swing at the 3-0 pitch. He tied the game, the Rays were the home team, and Tampa Bay has a solid bullpen, which are positives. Burrell has batted .474 when putting the ball in play on a 3-0 count, with a .536 slugging average. When the count is 3-1, Burrell has hit .378, but he has slugged .817.
Pressure On A.J. Burnett
A, J. Burnett was on top of his game. The Rays had an opportunity to tie the game, and they took it, but by giving Burrell the hit sign, Rays' manager Joe Maddon was decreasing the chances of a big inning if Burrell didn't produce a big hit. An out, even a game tying out, helped decrease the pressure on Burnett.
The Myth of the Predestined Hit
A walk would have loaded the bases with no outs, although the Rays would still be trailing, 2-1 with Dioner Navarro batting. The predestined hit is a myth because the situation changes. If Burrell had taken the 3-0 pitch, it would have been a strike. It is impossible to predict what would have happened, but one must decide between two situations. Which is better, having the bases loaded with no outs, trailing by a run in the seventh inning, or having a runner on first with one out and the game tied? Of course, Burrell has more power than Navarro, and has a better chance of getting a long hit.
Pat Burrell Had an Excellent Chance of Walking
After a 3-0 count (not necessarily hitting the next pitch), Burrell has batted .330 with a .790 on base average, which indicates that statistically, he had an excellent chance of walking. With the count 3-1, which is what would most likely have been the count if Burrell had not swung at the 3-0 pitch, he has hit .285, with a .637 on base average. With runners on first and third, Burrell has batted .348.
Statistics Do Not Account for Emotions
Statistics must be used as a valuable guide, but the cannot accurately factor in the emotions of the situation. Burnett has walked 3.7 batters per 9 innings in his career. He had just lost his potential no-hitter and given up 3 consecutive hits. Would he be hesitant to throw strikes to a power hitter? He did fall behind Burrell, 3-0.
The Rays had taken the momentum away from the Yankees in front of a sell out crowd. They had brutalized the Yankees' pitching the staff the previous night. There would have been a world of difference if the Rays had the bases loaded and none outs compared to a runner on first, one out, and a tie game. The move here would have to taken the 3-0 pitch in an attempt to load the bases to keep the rally alive and keep the pressure on Burnett. As paradoxical as it seems, there are times when the potential of tying a game is better than tying it.