Today’s game ended on possibly the oddest of all plays: the walkoff sacrifice bunt. Let’s take a deeper look at that play, and diagram what went so wrong for the Cubs as to allow Carlos Gomez to score all the way from first base.
First off: what happened. Craig Counsell bunted the ball down the third base line, where Cubs third baseman Chad Tracy fielded the bunt and threw Craig Counsell out at first, where Xavier Nady retreated after charging for a bunt down the first base line. Second baseman Mike Fontenot was behind first base to cover if the bunt were down the first base line. With Gomez stealing second, shortstop Starlin Castro was covering second base. That left third base vacant, which allowed Gomez to keep running. Catcher Koyie Hill attempted to cover the base, but Gomez beat him to the base anyway, and then Nady’s throw went into the stands, allowing Gomez to score the winning run.
Follow? Here’s a diagram.
The Cubs strategy here was sound, as the third baseman needs to be up in order to defend against the bunt down the line, which neither the pitcher nor catcher would likely be able to field. However, that leaves third base open, meaning it is the pitcher’s responsibility to cover third. This is roughly where the players were at the time of the catch and out at first base:
With Gomez going full speed and with the catcher Hill and the pitcher Howry as the nearest players to the base, there was almost no chance that either defender would be able to beat Gomez to the base and apply the tag. Howry didn’t even attempt, and Gomez’s speed forced Nady to try to lead Hill to the base, which resulted in the ball sailing into the stands.
If Howry covers the base immediately after the bunt, there’s a chance that Gomez doesn’t even attempt to take third base; even if he does, Howry would be in a much better position to receive the throw than Hill and may prevent Gomez from scoring.
This was merely the last poor of many poor defensive plays in a game that the Cubs made every effort to lose. Baseball announcers often harp on execution, particularly late in games. Today was a prime example of the impact of proper execution in the later stages of a baseball game. The Brewers executed their play perfectly, and the Cubs threw away the game.