The key play of the game came on a 3-0 pitch to Rays outfielder Pat Burrell. Tampa had runners on first and third and no outs in the seventh inning.
Runners On First and Third with No Outs
Yankees starter A.J. Burnett had held the Rays hitless through the first six innings, and was protecting a slim 2-0 lead when Carl Crawford, leading off the inning, fouled off Burnett's first five pitches before slicing a single to left field.
Evan Longoria followed with another single to left, moving Crawford to second. Then Carlos Pena lashed a hit to right field for a single, scoring Crawford and moving Longoria to third with the potential tying run.
Burrell's Sacrifice Fly Ties the Game
Burnett fell behind Burrell, 3-0.
The former Phillies' outfielder, who averages 157 strikeouts a season, swung at Burnett's 3-0 pitch and lifted a fly ball to right field, scoring Longoria from third and tying the game.
Dioner Navarro struck out and, with Ben Zobrist at the plate, catcher Jose Molina nabbed Pena off first to end the inning.
An .817 Slugging Average on 3-1
There is no right or wrong move with respect to whether Burrell should have swing at the 3-0 pitch. He tied the game, the Rays were the home team, and Tampa Bay has a solid bullpen.
Burrell bats .474 with a .536 slugging percentage when facing a 3-0 count. When the count is 3-1, Burrell hits .378, but slugs .817.
Pressure On Burnett
Burnett was on top of his game. The Rays had an opportunity to tie the game, and they took it, but by giving Burrell the hit sign, Rays manager Joe Maddon was decreasing the chances of a big inning if Burrell didn't produce a big hit.
An out, even a game tying out, helped decrease the pressure on Burnett.
The Myth of the Predestined Hit
A walk would have loaded the bases with no outs, although the Rays would still be trailing by a run with Dioner Navarro batting.
The predestined hit is a myth because the situation changes. If Burrell had taken the 3-0 pitch, it would have been a strike.
It is impossible to predict what would have happened, but one must decide between two situations.
Which is better, having the bases loaded with no outs and trailing by a run in the seventh inning, or having a runner on first with one out and the game tied?
Of course, Burrell has more power than Navarro, and has a better chance of getting a long hit.
Pat Burrell Had an Excellent Chance of Walking
After a 3-0 count, Burrell has batted .330 with a .790 on-base percentage, which indicates that statistically, he had an excellent chance of walking.
With the count 3-1, he hits .285 with a .637 on-base percentage. With runners on first and third, Burrell has batted .348.
Statistics Do Not Account for Emotions
Statistics must be used as a valuable guide, but they cannot accurately factor in the emotions of the situation.
Burnett has walked 3.7 batters per nine innings in his career. He had just lost his potential no-hitter and given up three consecutive hits.
Would he be hesitant to throw strikes to a power hitter? He did fall behind Burrell, 3-0.
The Rays had taken the momentum away from the Yankees in front of a sell-out crowd, and had brutalized the Yankees' pitching the staff the previous night.
There would have been a world of difference if the Rays had the bases loaded and no outs compared to a runner on first, one out, and a tie game.
The move here would have been to take the 3-0 pitch in an attempt to load the bases to keep the rally alive and keep the pressure on Burnett. As paradoxical as it seems, there are times when the potential of tying a game is better than actually tying it.
Pat Burrell Splits at Sports Illustrated