Kansas City, Mo. – You wonder why managers have gray hair, or in the case of Ron Gardenhire, very little hair?
Go back to the fifth inning Friday night, a game the Tigers lost late 4-2. Left-hander Francisco Liriano and Royals right-hander Ian Kennedy were locked in a scoreless duel. The Tigers put the first two runners on to start the fifth.
Jose Iglesias stepped in and Gardenhire signaled to third base coach Dave Clark to have Iglesias bunt.
“The way the game was going, get somebody over there and see if we can put pressure on them,” Gardenhire said. “Make them play the infield in or back, maybe we can get two runs out of it. We just wanted to put pressure on them.”
Iglesias handles the bat well and is normally a good bunter. The Tigers did optional bunting drills during early batting practice Friday, though Iglesias didn’t participate.
“Iggy’s pretty good,” Gardenhire said. “He’s normally a pretty good bat-control guy, so he should be able to do it with ease.”
Kennedy, though, missed with the first two pitches. And Gardenhire noticed the Royals infielders were moving, deploying the wheel play where the third baseman and first baseman charge the bunt, the shortstop covers third and the second baseman covers first.
Gardenhire took the bunt sign off.
“They did the wheel play and I said, ‘Do that again,’” Gardenhire said. “If we get the swing, they’re running all over the place. They can wheel or fake the wheel – that’s perfect. We hit a ground ball and we’re set up pretty good.”
Unfortunately, Iglesias took the pitch. A center-cut fastball.
“He took it,” Gardenhire said. “I wanted him to rip it.”
The at-bat went from bad to worse. Gardenhire put the bunt back on and Iglesias squared late, trying to roll a drag bunt and fouled it off – running the count to 2-2. He ended up striking out, looking at a 2-2 fastball.
“Just didn’t get it done,” Gardenhire said. “That was one of those deflators.”
Iglesias came up again in the seventh inning. The game was still scoreless. James McCann led off with a single. There was no bunt call from the bench, but on a 3-1 pitch, Iglesias tried another drag bunt and popped it up to the pitcher, Kevin McCarthy.
“We all know the game has changed and bunting is taboo to some of these analytics people,” Gardenhire said. “But there is still a time and a place where that’s a play to put pressure and see what they do. Force the defense to try to have to make a decision.
“But, you’ve got to get it down and get them over. We just didn’t get it done.”