BOSTON – Paul Molitor didn’t want to do it. Joe Mauer didn’t expect him to do it. The Red Sox wish he hadn’t done it.
But Molitor gave the bunt sign to the three-time batting champion in the ninth inning Thursday, and Mauer … well, he failed.
Mauer’s bad bunt turned into an even worse error by the Red Sox, a run-scoring misplay that capped a day full of madcap misadventures, broke a tie and handed the Twins an 8-4 victory that earned them a split of the four-game series and extended, for at least one more day, their stay in first place in the AL Central.
“Nobody expected that one. That’s probably why everything just kind of went haywire,” said Torii Hunter, who helped dig the Twins out of a 4-0 hole by smashing a three-run homer against a billboard above Fenway Park’s Green Monster, his 200th career home run as a Twin. “Nobody in baseball thought Joe Mauer was going to bunt there, and he was actually causing havoc.”
Well, that’s one way to look at it. The ninth-inning bunt was an awful one, traveling only a foot or two in front of home plate and allowing catcher Blake Swihart to pounce on it before Mauer could even get out of the batter’s box. But Swihart’s throw to Pedro Sandoval, in an effort to force out Brian Dozier at third base, curled under Sandoval’s glove and into left field, enabling Dozier to come home and break a 4-4 tie.
“That’s awesome, Joe doing that,” Dozier said of the unexpected bunt by a guy who hasn’t sacrificed runners over since 2012. No outs, trying to get the winning run across, that’s how he is. Whatever it takes to get the win.”
This crazy, sloppy game took a lot — five errors, eight infield hits, some outfield misplays and at least four baserunning blunders. Both sides made mistakes that made fans wince in disbelief; the Twins handed Boston two unearned runs, the Red Sox gave the Twins three. But the Twins, a day after pulling off a squeeze for an important run, again utilized the element of surprise to force Boston into a mistake.
And the Twins took advantage. Plouffe followed with an RBI single off the Green Monster, Eduardo Escobar hit a run-scoring double over left fielder Hanley Ramirez’s reach and Shane Robinson made it a four-run ninth with a sacrifice fly.
“When you have a squeeze play, or when Joe Mauer, batting champion, he bunts, nobody expects it,” Hunter said. “You don’t know what to do. You’re not planned out. That’s what caused that error. [Swihart] just kind of panicked.”
Actually, the error was charged to Sandoval, but maybe Hunter’s right. In a crazy game, Dozier said, “we put a lot of pressure on them.”
Boston tried it, too, in the seventh inning, waving home Mike Napoli, who had been running from first on a 3-2 pitch, on a single to center. But Dozier foiled that play with a good throw, beating Napoli by 40 feet.
That kept the score tied, until Molitor called for the bunt after Dozier and Hunter led off with singles in the ninth.
“It’s not a very good feeling to put a sacrifice bunt on for that guy,” Molitor said of Mauer, but the manager was trying to avoid a double play. He waited until the count was 1-1, giving Mauer a chance to drive one. Then he flashed the sign that even caught Mauer by surprise.
“In that situation, you want to drive those guys in. But I looked down at the third base coach,” he said. “I saw the sign, and that’s what you’ve got to do.”