Gibbons’ sly strategy pays off for Blue Jays

Drew Hutchison retired the first 14 batters he faced and struck out ten overall, Jose Bautista hit a home run, and the Canada Day crowd at Rogers Centre witnessed the Jays walk away with a win over Milwaukee.

TORONTO – With the Toronto Blue Jays clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning of their eventual Canada Day win over the Milwaukee Brewers, manager John Gibbons did some fancy button-pushing in order to get a favourable matchup that led to some much-needed breathing room for his struggling first-place club.

I get a lot of post-game calls asking why the Blue Jays don’t often employ the sacrifice bunt. They don’t, for good reason (it’s not generally a good strategy). On Tuesday afternoon, Gibbons employed the sacrifice pinch-hitter.

Lefty Zach Duke came on in the seventh inning with two on, nobody out and Colby Rasmus, Juan Francisco and Munenori Kawasaki — all left-handed hitters — due up. The move not only put the Blue Jays behind the eight-ball as far as scoring those two runners was concerned, but it also forced Gibbons to keep his biggest bullet in the chamber. Adam Lind, who wasn’t in the starting lineup because Jose Bautista’s healing hamstring could only allow him to serve as the DH, was sitting and waiting for an opportunity to be used.

When Duke came back out to start the eighth with right-hander Rob Wooten ready in the Brewers’ bullpen, Gibbons saw his chance to get Lind and his 1.033 OPS against righties into the game. He did it by sacrificing Brad Glenn.

Gibbons sent the right-handed Glenn out to hit for the lefty-swinging Anthony Gose, knowing full well that Brewers’ skipper Ron Roenicke would take the bait and counter with Wooten. What Roenicke didn’t account for was that Glenn was just a pawn to allow Gibbons to get Lind into the game.

As soon as Glenn was announced as a pinch-hitter, Roenicke popped out of the Milwaukee dugout to bring in his right-hander, and one imagines that Gibbons could barely contain his glee as he thanked Glenn for his marvellous service as a decoy and told Lind to grab a bat and pinch hit.

The move was only made possible because the Blue Jays not only still had a reserve outfielder on the bench, but one who is strong defensively. After all, assured of no more than a one-run lead going into the ninth, it would be foolhardy to take the defensive drop-off from Gose to Glenn in right field. But with the Jays running only a six-man bullpen for the time being, Darin Mastroianni was still available even after Gibbons intentionally burned Glenn without having him even see a pitch.

Lind singled, Mastroianni came in to pinch-run for him, and that base runner was the catalyst to a two-run inning that gave closer Casey Janssen a margin for error that he didn’t need. Mastroianni scored on Melky Cabrera’s triple into the gap in right-centre, and two batters later Cabrera was ushered home by Edwin Encarnacion’s double off the wall in dead centre.

It’s rare to see four different people occupy the same spot on the scoresheet in the same at-bat, but there it was leading off the bottom of the eighth, just like Gibbons drew it up. Gose to Glenn to Lind to Mastroianni to increase the Blue Jays chances of picking up a win.

The sacrifice bunt rarely increases a team’s chances to win a ballgame. The sacrifice pinch-hitter? Well, that’s a whole other story altogether.

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