PART VII: THE INTENTIONAL PASS
Among the most debated and second guessed plays in baseball is the intentional pass. A sports announcer I know claims it's never good baseball. According to him the batter purposely passed scores too many times. I will agree that the intentional pass is a dangerous gamble. But it is a gamble that a manager must make at times.
The one "perfect" time for the intentional walk comes in the last of the ninth inning, with the winning run in scoring position for the opposing team. With a runner on third and less than two out, it's almost mandatory that a manager employ this strategy. If walking the first batter brings to the plate a weaker hitter, so much the better.
Most managers also accept the practice of issuing a base on balls to the eighth-place batter if a runner is in scoring position—to get at the pitcher. A good many times this is questionable strategy, because of the obvious advantage for the defense to have the pitcher lead off the following inning. A lot of course depends on just how good a hitter is in the eighth slot, and on the batting ability of the pitcher. Sometimes, too, the manager will order a base on balls to the eighth-place hitter in an attempt to force the opposing manager to remove a certain pitcher.
Larry (Yogi) Berra, a master of catching strategy, employs another intentional pass maneuver quite often. With the runners on first and third, or perhaps first and second, Berra will be extra careful in having his pitcher deal with a certain hitter, even if it results in a base on balls. His reasoning: a base on balls does not score any runs, but a solid base hit could put the game beyond recall.
Setting up a double play represents another reason often advanced to justify use of the intentional pass. With a right-handed pitcher it's undoubtedly good logic to pass the rough left-handed batter to get to a right-hander of lesser ability. Ordinarily, you'll find it easier to double the right-hand batter, particularly if he is a pull hitter.
The most controversial of all intentional passes involves putting the tying and/or winning run on base. It's axiomatic that this should never be done, but I have personally looked back many times and wished I had done it.
Admittedly the odds must be heavily in your favor when you order the tying run to first. And they must be overwhelmingly on your side when you decide the time has come to put the winning run on base. The maneuver is highly dangerous.
An example: In Detroit in 1954, Boston had a runner on second with two out. The hitter was Ted Williams on a hot streak and in his favorite park. Ted represented the tying run as he came up in the eighth inning. Manager Fred Hutchinson took the big gamble and ordered Pitcher Ned Garver to walk Ted. Jackie Jensen picked on Garver's next pitch and sent it screaming into the upper deck at Briggs Stadium for a three-run homer.
An even more costly example occurred in the famous fourth game of the 1947 World Series when Yankee Pitcher Floyd Bevens came within one out of baseball's first and only no-hit World Series performance.