Saturday, September 20, 2014

Epic Collapse: Sept. 21, 1964--Bunting Dick Allen ... Bunting Dick Allen?

When the Phillies took the field against the second-place Cincinnati Reds at home in Connie Mack Stadium on September 21, they held a comfortable 6-1/2 game lead in the standings with 12 remaining. They lost 1-0, victimized for the second time in three days by the winning run against them scoring on a steal of home plate. All accounts of this game mention that both managers--Gene Mauch and Dick Sisler of the Reds--were shocked (shocked!) that Chico Ruiz stole home with Frank Robinson (Frank Robinson!), one of baseball's most accomplished and feared batsmen, at the plate. What they don't mention is that the Phillies' best chance for a run came in the very first inning with a runner on first and nobody out--and Mauch chose to have Dick Allen, his most dangerous and productive hitter, lay down a sacrifice bunt (Dick Allen! Bunt!?!) instead of trying to drive in the run.

Sept. 21, 1964: Bunting Dick Allen ... Bunting Dick Allen?

After Art Mahaffey, back in the starting rotation, retired the Reds in the top of the first, Tony Gonzalez led off for the Phillies with a single, bringing up Dick (then known as "Richie") Allen. As discussed in a previous post (see link at the end of this article), Allen was back to hitting second in Mauch's batting order against right-handed starting pitchers instead of in a power slot. The Phillies had all 27 outs remaining, but rather than have Allen hit away with the possibility of setting up a big first inning, Mauch asked him to lay down a sacrifice bunt. If Allen had failed to advance the runner by swinging away, Mauch would still have had two outs left in the inning (or there might have been a double play), and still eight more innings to go.  Allen's sacrifice was good, but Gonzalez wound up stranded on third--the closest any Phillie would come to scoring all evening.

This was actually the second time in three days that Mauch called for Allen to sacrifice himself for the Phillies' cause rather than use his most potent weapon in the way the baseball gods intended. In that 16-inning loss to the Dodgers on September 19 (see the previous post in this series, "Sending a Rook to do a Vet's Job"), the Phillies had the opportunity to win the game in the 14th inning when Johnny Callison led off with a single and Dick Allen--batting clean-up that day because a lefty started--was next up to bat. After Allen was the pitcher's spot (the result of an earlier double-switch). And, this being a long game in which he had already used seven position players off the bench, Mauch had limited options for a pinch hitter.  Specifically,he had the light-hitting Bobby Wine, who was batting .209 with only 4 home runs and 33 RBI and hadn't played in five days except in the field as a defensive replacement at shortstop.

In his three most recent previous trips to the plate in the game, Allen had two singles and been intentionally walked. Notwithstanding that it was the 14th inning in a tie game and knowing that Wine was to bat next, Mauch opted to play for one run rather than let the most dangerous batter in his line-up hit away with the possibility of driving in the could-be winning run. Allen was successful in his sacrifice attempt but that left Mauch with only two outs to work with and two weak hitters--Wine, followed by .238-hitting catcher Clay Dalrymple--to try to drive in Callison from second base. Trying to get a good jump, Callison was picked off. Wine flied out. The Phillies failed to score. And Willie Davis ultimately stole home on Morrie Steevens.

With Dick Allen on his way to 201 hits--29 of them home runs--an OPS of .939 (fifth best in the league) and 352 total bases, more than anyone else in the league (Willie Mays had 351), Mauch's decision to have him lay down a sacrifice bunt is open to legitimate question. Few other managers used their most powerful hitters to lay one down for lesser lights to try to drive the runner home. The two best hitters in the Phillies' lineup--Allen and Callison--who hit a combined total of 60 home runs in 1964--both laid down, during the course of the season, six sacrifice bunts with nobody out  to move a base runner into scoring position. In calling for them to do so in the interest of playing for one run, Mauch gave up as outs his two most likely batters to drive in runs. Of the NL's other premier hitters who also hit for power, Mays had one sac bunt for the Giants in 1964, Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey none; Frank Robinson did not have a sacrifice all year for the Reds; neither did Ken Boyer for the Cardinals; nor did Hank Aaron or Eddie Mathews for the Braves.

It is worth considering that Dick Allen batted .464 with runners on base during the 17 days of their epic collapse (dating back to Bunning's first start on short rest in Houston).  .464!  Had Allen been allowed to swing away in either of those plate appearances against the Dodgers and Reds, the outcome of either game, or of both games, might have been different. One more win at that point in the season, with so few games remaining, might have been all it would have taken to permanently deflate the hopes of the Reds and Cardinals before they began their surge upward.

Following their dispiriting 1-0 loss on September 21, Chris Short was roughed up the next day and the Reds completed a three-game sweep the day after that.  Of no small significance, Jim Bunning's regular turn in the rotation would have had him start the first game of this series, but because of Mauch's decision to start him on short rest in Houston when there was no compelling pennant-race reason for doing so (other than setting up Bunning to start Game 1 of the World Series, as I argued in a previous post), Bunning did not pitch against Cincinnati.

The failure to take even one game from the Reds (at home) cost the Phillies three games in the standings in three days. Had the Phillies won even just one, they would have had a 5-1/2 game lead over Cincinnati and been six ahead of both St. Louis and San Francisco. Instead, the Reds were now 3-1/2 games out, the Cardinals and Giants five back. With nine games remaining, it still seemed time was on Philadelphia's side. But the end of the season could not come soon enough.

See also, (August 7): Where Should Dick Allen Have Hit?:

and (June 29): Mauch Loved to Sacrifice:

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