As you have certainly heard by now, Evan Longoria laid down a bunt in the bottom of the fifth inning of yesterday game, when the Rays were down 5-1, but had two runners on and nobody out. It went as a sacrifice, but that was not his intention–he was hoping to surprise Jered Weaver and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and end up with a base hit. However, it did not work out, and now we are left trying to comprehend what Longoria was thinking.
Evan Longoria laying down a sacrifice bunt, even if that was not what he was aiming to do or not, is about as surprising as this entire Rays season. Who would have thought that the Rays would be the worst team in baseball as late as June after such high aspirations at the beginning of the year? This entire Rays season has been a gamble. They held onto David Price, re-signed James Loney, and brought in Grant Balfour as they assembled what they thought would be their best team ever. They knew their franchise-high payroll was unsustainable, but they thought it would all be worthwhile if they could return to the postseason and have a real chance of bringing home their first championship. Instead, they did not get the results they hoped for, and all they have seen is criticism for all their moves. The same can be said regarding Longoria.
If Evan Longoria bunted it a little bit farther down the third base line and ended up with a single, how would we have thought about this? What if David Freese was so surprised that he rushed his throw to first and threw it down the right field line? The same things that are running through our thoughts now–why did Longoria take the bat out of hands?–would have been present, but mostly ignored. We would still be shaking our heads in disbelief, but Longoria would have been a genius for catching the Angels off-guard and giving the Rays an even better chance to win by doing so. It still would not have been the right move.
Over the years, the Tampa Bay Rays have forced all of their fans to take leaps of faith. You have to believe that every reliever signed or acquired was going to magically transformed. You can never question that Andrew Friedman knows what he’s doing for every single trade. You have to simply know that whenever a star player departs, the Rays will find a way to replace him without a hitch. But those are not always true. The Rays are excellent franchise, but they make mistakes, and every once in a while, it costs them.
Evan Longoria knew that he had a chance to hit a three-run home run and bring the Rays to within 5-4, but he thought he knew something and that he could seize the opportunity. Even though he would never do that under ordinary circumstances, he thought he had reason enough to differ this time. That was the case with the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. They have avoided the multi-year reliever signings in favor of undervalued pitchers they believed they could turn around, with outstanding results. They have cycled through first baseman after first baseman believing that they could always find a diamond in the rough, and always found a way to do so. The process was yielding the right results! But sometimes you see an exception. Sometimes you see the chance to do something crazy, that goes against everything you have done for years on end, but you do it anyway because you think that this time is different. Just like Evan Longoria failed on his bunt attempt, the Rays failed on the moves that went so clearly against what they had done in previous seasons. Now we are left trying to understand what happened and hoping that we will never have to go through something like this again.