Mishandling of bunt by pitcher dooms Pirates

Mishandling of bunt by pitcher dooms Pirates

WASHINGTON -- With runners on the corners and nobody out in the seventh inning of a 1-1 game Friday, Pirates reliever Neftali Feliz entered with a manageable assignment: retire Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

But Strasburg, who had struck out while trying to sacrifice in his previous at-bat, bunted a ball back toward Feliz, and the combination of daring baserunning by the Nats and misguided defense from the Pirates left Washington with a one-run lead on the way to a 5-1 victory.

All seemed normal on the play at first, as Feliz calmly fielded Strasburg's bunt and looked toward third base, where Danny Espinosa leaned back toward the bag. But as soon as Feliz turned to throw to first, Espinosa dashed home. First baseman David Freese caught the ball in front of the bag and fired toward the plate, but Espinosa dove in ahead of the tag, giving the Nationals a 2-1 edge.

Meanwhile, because Freese had charged Feliz's throw to try to cut down Espinosa at the plate, he didn't step on first and Strasburg was safe, leaving the Nationals with two on and nobody out. Washington added three insurance runs in the inning.

After the game, Feliz said he felt he had done the right thing on the play.

"I tried to do what I was taught to do, which is get the bunt and guarantee the first out," Feliz said. "Unfortunately it didn't work out like that, but I did what I was taught to do."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle disagreed, saying Feliz should have prioritized Espinosa at third.

"When you see where the runner was, he was halfway down the line," Hurdle said. "[Feliz] was told to check the runner, he kind of checked him, he kind of stopped him. However an arm fake or a throw to third base, we've got the guy hung out, he's halfway down the line."

Feliz, meanwhile, said he saw Espinosa dancing off third, but thought he had effectively looked him back.

"I did notice the large lead that he had," the pitcher said. "And I looked, and when I noticed that he started leaning back toward third, that's when I threw toward first to try to guarantee that out."

Not only did the Nationals take the lead on the play, but they also built off the sequence to plate three more runs. Two batters after Strasburg's bunt, Clint Robinson advanced from second to third on a wild pitch, then scored when catcher Eric Fryer's throw sailed into left field. Michael Taylor then homered to right-center, plating Strasburg.

If all had gone according to plan on the botched bunt, and the Pirates had recorded an out at either first or third, the inning would have unfolded differently and maybe Feliz could have held the Nationals off the board. Instead the situation spiraled and the Pirates were left to wonder how that bunt play should have looked.

Alex Putterman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.