Just in case there was any doubt on the subject, Manny Acta is going to be the manager and just do whatever he wants. If he wants to bunt, he's going to bunt. Even after he tells you that bunting isn't really a good idea, nevertheless, he's going to bunt whenever he wants to bunt, you know, by being the manager. And as long as he's winning — and generally making his two-ringed counterpart in the other dugout look like an amateur — he's going to make a whole lot of fans by doing just that.
I give you 50 words about the Red Sox, and that's it. Lester pitched a gem, took a tough loss. Youkilis is now the Greek God of Butterfingers. Pedroia looked helpless against Rafael Perez, batting right-against-left, in a clutch situation in the 8th, deceiving the ump on a pathetic swinging third strike only to earn the right to make a pathetic groundout to the mound. That's it — see every other news outlet for another 10,000 words on these subjects. They suck, they don't suck — I really don't care, and neither do you.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning. Fausto Carmona pitched a gem today, seven shutout innings yielding only two hits and two walks. Only one baserunner reached second base, when a one-out walk was followed by a single in the 3rd. Carmona responded by retiring 14 out of the next 15 batters, a run interrupted only by an infield single. While we fretted over hard-hit balls to the outfield, Carmona racked up the outs, including nine groundouts and four strikeouts. He was very much the Fausto we want and need him to be.
And then things got interesting.
I'm going to try to remember the 8th inning for a good long while, because it was really something to relish. It was a tie game, both starters removed at this point, so it was going to come down to the bullpens — or at least that's how it seemed. Chad Durbin started the top of the inning with a hard out to center field, followed by a single and a walk. Acta called on Rafael Perez to face the best hitters in Boston's lineup, with one out and men on first and second. Crawford managed only a groundout, but the runners advanced to second and third.
The Rafael-Dustin confrontation was interesting on a few fronts. First base was open, and the batter had the supposed platoon advantage in addition to being an alleged MVP — and yet, Acta had Perez go right after Pedroia, basically with the whole game on the line. (Those howling about the bunts should take note that Acta's approach to this situation suggests a certain fealty to objective tactical analysis.)
The count quickly went to 0-2 with two on the outside corner, apparently beyond Pedroia's reach. Pedroia chopped one on the inside foul to the left side and drew a couple of balls as Perez continued to bait him on two-strike counts. Then, Pedroia guessed badly and ended up with an ugly flail at a pitch practically in the dirt — but convinced the ump that he'd gotten a tiny piece of the pitch. It was admittedly a tough call for the ump, but replays were conclusive that Pedroia had missed completely. He ended up with a weak groundout to the mound — inning over, game still a scoreless tie.
No team expects their utility infielders to hit for power, but the Indians do expect patience at the plate out of every hitter. Even at his peak, Adam Everett never achieved even a 6.0% walk rate — which would still be very bad — and he rarely managed a .300 OBP — which would still be atrocious — and at 34, Everett likely is not even at that profoundly unlofty peak anymore, anyway.
Still — still! — Adam Everett is a Cleveland Indian now, and damned if he didn't lead off the bottom of the 8th by drawing a walk off the seemingly fearsome Daniel Bard. What happened next was pretty memorable, so it would be easy to forget that Everett was the unlikely instigator of the setup: Tie game, leadoff man on base, top of the lineup at the plate.
And now ... the bunting. If Acta or Orlando Cabrera suffered from the slings and arrows emanating from our game thread, they certainly showed no signs of it. Orlando squared up, took a ball. Orlando squared up again, took another ball. He took a strike on the third pitch but — surprise! — Everett took off for second and made it. Did Everett think it was a hit-and-run? Did Orlando miss a sign? Or could it be that Acta seized the opportunity, with an increasingly anxious Boston infield focusing on the bunt, to just have Everett go and take the base for himself?
Doesn't matter. Everett was now on second, and everyone had to admit that the bunt no longer seemed quite so dumb, and Orlando executed a perfect sac-bunt to the right side, moving Everett to third.
And now ... more bunting. I don't know if Acta is just "running into" a bunch of good luck with his tactical moves, but this much must be said for the man: He seems to have a great feel for the element of surprise. Asdrubal Cabrera broke open the game just last night with a three-run bomb, and he's a switch hitter, and all he needed to do for the Indians to take the lead was to hit the ball to the outfield. If he failed, the Indians would have another chance, and their very best hitters were coming up.
So there was no reason to think Asdrubal would be bunting, but bunt he did. With Everett taking off running to the plate, Asdrubal reached out to get the bat on a high, outside pitch that he otherwise would have spurned, somehow producing an exquisite medium-speed roller, running perfectly in parallel to the third-base line, fair by perhaps two feet. It was so perfect, it looked like a computer simulation, and it was impossible to defend; Everett crossed the plate for the game's one and only run less than one second after Youkilis picked up the ball.
In retrospect, Acta played the bottom of the 8th as if it were the top of the 9th. It's likely that was going to bring in his closer regardless, to face the very best hitters in the opposing lineup, and with Boston bats scuffling, he made the calculation that he'd rather maximize the chance to have his closer protecting a one-run lead. And it was a beautiful 9th from Chris Perez, too, almost as beautiful as the 8th. Strike looking, ball, groundout to new pricey acquisition Adrian Gonzalez. Strike looking, ball, groundout to the Greek God of Butterfingers. A walk to Ortiz, and then one final head-scratching, you-had-to-see it play.
J.D. Drew hit a scorcher that caromed off Perez's leg, scooped up by Everett with no chance to get the out at first. Everett held the ball for an extra half-second, waiting to see if the pinch-runner would over-run second base — which, remarkably, he did — and then threw to Orlando for the tag, the final out of the game. It was a close play and maybe even a blown call, but that doesn't change the unavoidable conclusion for any Indians fan who watched this 20 minutes of baseball, the final two half-innings.
These two small-market free agents, Adam Everett and Orlando Cabrera, seemingly inconsequential pickups, both playing out of their natural shortstop position, are likely not to hit worth a damn over six months of the season. What they did today, however, was demonstrate an adroitness, an awareness of the game and the right way to play it, that has been almost entirely missing from Indians baseball over the last few seasons. I'm not going to mistake the little things for the big things, or the Indians for contenders (yet!), but damn — Manny Acta baseball sure is fun to watch.