The Unwritten Rule War rages on

If the Blue Jays threw at the Rays for bunting with a five-run lead in the sixth, things are getting worse.


King Kaufman
July 21, 2008 3:00PM (UTC)

The latest flare-up in the Unwritten Rules War happened at the Toronto Blue Jays-Tampa Bay Rays game in Florida Saturday.

Toronto pitcher Brandon League was ejected after plunking Tampa Bay catcher Dioner Navarro in the eighth inning. In Navarro's previous at-bat, the Rays up 5-0 with two outs and one on in the sixth inning, he'd bunted for a single.

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Now, what really happened is he said-he said. League said the pitch got away from him, Rays manager Joe Maddon said League threw a purpose pitch.

"I really disagree with that they did," the Associated Press quoted Maddon saying. "We'll stop trying to score runs when they stop trying. Maybe in 1922 you wouldn't do that because nobody could hit a home run. But in the year 2008, people can hit home runs." Maddon pointed out that after the Rays had scored a run in the eighth to make it 6-0, the Blue Jays scored four runs in the ninth inning and brought the tying run to the plate.

We've talked around here about how teams that are losing need to shut up about the unwritten rules and quit whining about the leading team continuing to play to win. To review for those who just came in: If you don't like the other team running up the score or rubbing it in or showing you up, play better.

But what's notable here is that the threshold seems to be going in the wrong direction. If the Jays really were retaliating for Navarro's bunt -- and it's certainly a possibility they were not -- that would represent a kind of blowout inflation. Five to nothing in the sixth inning is bad, but it's not a complete massacre. If that counts as a blowout now, we're going to have a lot more of this unwritten-rule griping.

Christopher Shea's Win Expectancy Finder totals up the results of all the games that had any given situation between 1977 and 2006 -- except 1999, for some reason -- and arrives at a winning percentage, which is the win expectancy.

Navarro's situation was the home team batting in the sixth inning, two outs, man on first, up by five. According to the finder, the home team went 725-29 after being in that situation in the games the finder uses. That's a .962 winning percentage, so the situation gives the home team a win expectancy of 96.2 percent.

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And that's using a lot of games from an era of much lower offense than what happens in the majors today. The win expectancy is probably a little lower in today's high-scoring environment.

Still, it's pretty high -- as you'd expect. That's what it feels like when you're watching a game and it's 5-0 for the home team in the bottom of the sixth and there's a man on base. It's not hopeless for the visitors, but it'd be a hell of a comeback. The game's pretty much in the bag.

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Here's another situation, a hypothetical one: The home team is batting with no outs in the eighth inning, runners on second and third and a one-run lead. The win expectancy in that situation: 96.1 percent. Virtually the same as the situation Navarro was batting in.

Should the home team Cadillac it from there? The game's pretty much in the bag, after all. At least it's about as much in the bag as it was when the lead was five runs in the sixth. Not even the most sensitive unwritten-rule adherent would suggest it would be insulting or not playing the right way if the home team tried a squeeze bunt there to get the insurance run home.

Two weeks ago the Milwaukee Brewers took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning against the Diamondbacks in Arizona. The Brewers' win expectancy at that moment was 99.1 percent.

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They lost, 6-5. It happens. Keep playing.


King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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