The Los Angeles Dodgers snapped a three-game losing streak on Saturday night, defeating the Los Angeles Angels in what proved to be an eventful contest. The Dodgers may have prevailed by a 14-11 final, but that score obscures that the Dodgers originally staked out a 13-0 lead. Moreover, it overshadows that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw openly scoffed at the Angels for a fifth-inning bunt, a decision that may have prevented the Angels from completing their unlikely comeback.
To set the scene: the Angels were down by 13 in the fifth inning when right fielder Taylor Ward came to the plate with a runner on first and one out in the frame. Ward push-bunted the first pitch he saw to the right side of the infield. First baseman Max Muncy, the only fielder located on that side because of the overshift, corralled the ball easily and threw to second base for the force out. The Dodgers, for their part, were less-than-amused by Ward’s attempt at beating the shift.
As SB Nation’s Eric Stephen pointed out, Kershaw could be seen on the television broadcast motioning to the scoreboard while telling his dugout “That’s so stupid.” The broadcast then cut to Roberts, who also appeared to disagree with the bunt call, albeit in terms that were harder to make out through lip reading. Roberts later confirmed as much in his post-game presser, saying, “It’s just not a good baseball play, any way you slice it,” again according to Stephen.
Obviously Ward’s bunt didn’t do the Angels much good — he would be stranded at first base after the next batter, Jose Rojas, popped out to shortstop — but it’s rare to see an opponent so animated over what they deem to be a suboptimal tactical decision. If anything, the Dodgers should’ve been thrilled that Ward made a quick, easy out that kept the blowout moving.
That sense of relief should have been multiplied by how the rest of the game played out. The Angels scored four in the sixth inning, then tacked on another seven in the seventh following a fielding error by second baseman Austin Barnes. The Angels’ comeback attempt ultimately fell short, with their bats going quietly in the eighth and ninth innings, but there’s no way of knowing how the rest of the game would have played out if Ward had just swung away instead.
Perhaps the Dodgers were simply using Saturday night to let out whatever frustration they had accumulated during their recent skid, and Ward’s bunt was merely a convenient vehicle. Lord knows that’s preferable to the alternative of policing some nonsensical unwritten rule or another.