Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Art of the Squeeze Play

Casilla scoring on the suicide squeeze from Tolbert (Photo: AP)
The art of small ball is something truly to behold. In the past the Twins have been known for their success in the small ball department. One of the most exciting plays to watch in small ball department is a beautifully executed squeeze play. The Twins had one on Tuesday night and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

For those that do not know, a squeeze play can be defined as ( from Wikipedia):

In baseball, the squeeze play is a maneuver consisting of a sacrifice bunt with a runner on third base. The batter bunts the ball, expecting to be thrown out at first base, but providing the runner on third base an opportunity to score.

Last Night's Squeeze Play
The Twins had jumped out to a one-run lead early in the contest. In the third inning, Casilla lead off with a double that went off of the glove of the fielder near the wall in left centerfield. Span advanced Casilla to third with a ground out to the shortstop. The ball was hit behind the runner, Casilla, and he took off for third. The aggressive baserunning from Casilla helped to set-up the situation that would follow.

Over the course of this season, scoring runs has been difficult for the Twins at times. Tolbert stepped to the plate with only one out recorded in the inning. With the speedy Casilla occupying third, the squeeze play seemed like a very likely scenario. Casilla broke for home and Tolbert laid down a perfectly placed bunt. All Casilla had to do was trot past the catcher and add another run to the scoreboard.

A Squeeze Play from Last Season
The last squeeze play that I saw in person took place at Target Field last season. The Atlanta Braves were in town the night of June 12 for an interleague series with the Twins. Interesting enough Blackburn also started that game for the Twins. This time he was on the wrong end of the squeeze play.

This squeeze play occurred at a much more crucial time in the game. The Twins and Braves were all square in the 9th inning of this rematch of the 1991 World Series. Cabrera started off the 9th with a fly out to Span in centerfield. The next batter Blanco was walked and this walk would be the run that haunted the Twins. Prado stepped to the plate and knocked a single to left. Blanco advanced to third on the hit. This lead to Mijares getting pulled from the game in favor of Guerrier.

Guerrier came in with runners on first and third with only one out, a tough situation for any pitcher. Brooks Conrad entered the batters box hoping to knock in the runner from third. The squeeze play was put on and not only did Conrad execute the bunt to perfection, he reached base safely. Atlanta would not do any more damage in the inning, but the life had been sucked out of Target Field.

As a fan of the Twins I was disappointed as I saw the play unfold in-front of my eyes. But as a fan of baseball, I appreciated the audacity it took Bobby Cox to call this play.

Overall, the squeeze play can be very exciting for players, coaches, and fans. The situation has to be right, but when the call is made, it is great to see the play develop. I felt Tolbert should have taken a curtain call for his excellent bunt. But maybe he can save that for another outstanding play later in the year.

It takes the right artist to execute the squeeze play. But when it works, it is a thing of beauty.

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