No outs, the tying run is on second base, and the Yankees are down by a single run.
Before I continue, I'll set the scene.
Papelbon's back on the mound, and his shortstop immediately lets him down. Rodriguez, leading off the ninth inning and facing the fiery right-hander for the second consecutive game, grounds one in the hole to Marco Scutaro.
Boston's coaching staff has Scutaro positioned perfectly. That precise positioning goes for naught, as Scutaro boots the grounder en route to his second error of the evening.
2B Robinson Cano follows up with an opposite-field double. Rodriguez comes around to score, and Papelbon—once again—is in a world of trouble.
Up comes burgeoning fan favorite Francisco Cervelli. The young back-up catcher is hitting .375 with 15 RBI in limited time. If those numbers aren't impressive enough, Cervelli is hitting .647 with runners in scoring position.
So we're back to where we started: no outs, the tying run is on second base, the Yankees are down by a single run, a haunted closer has the fresh memory of a heart-wrenching loss on his mind, and New York has a guy with a .647 batting average with RISP at the plate.
Red Sox fans can only be thinking one thing, "Here we go again, and how many times have I thought this in my life?"
Papelbon is feeling the pressure, even if he isn't showing it. He's struggling to get outs. His confidence isn't where it normally is. He's questioning his ability to get these Yankees hitters out.
So what does Joe Girardi decide?
To give Papelbon a free out, of course. Girardi calls for the sacrifice bunt, taking the bat out of the hands of his best clutch hitter to this point in the season, and giving away a freebie to Paps and his teammates.
There's a pitcher out there who is desperate for an out, scratching and clawing to find his groove, and you bunt with a guy who is hitting .647 with RISP? You bunt when the tying run is already in scoring position?
Now this play would make sense if Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Rodriguez, or Cano were batting behind Cervelli, but they obviously weren't. The surefire Hall of Famers, Thames, Juan Miranda, and Randy Winn were set to follow Cervelli in the order.
Really think about what Girardi opted for here. Not only does he take the bat out of the hands of the best contact hitter of the foursome (Cervelli), but he also gives Boston an out, and puts all the pressure on arguably the worst three positioned players on the Yankees roster.
Sure, Thames came through the night before, but wouldn't you rather have three cracks at an RBI as opposed to two? Wouldn't a single by Cervelli likely score the run from second base anyway?
Generally speaking, sabermetricians hate the sacrifice bunt; and though I don't agree with all of their cutting-edge strategies, I do agree that the sac bunt is an illogical and mathematically unsound play. Some situations definitely call for it (a pitcher in the batter's box), but the Cervelli situation was not one of them.
Girardi blew that potential comeback, and there's no convincing me otherwise. He left the game in Winn's hands, a man who is batting .136 with runners in scoring position.
I guess Cervelli's .647 wasn't good enough for Joe.
(John Frascella is the author of Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land, the first and only book centered on Boston's GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon or follow John's Twitter @RedSoxAuthor.)