The Art of Unpredictability

It was Saturday night in Florida and the Tampa Bay Rays were on the field. But who was hit-and-running in the first inning and then attempting a squeeze play at home? The Boston Red Sox–new edition. This was a case of turning the tables on Joe Maddon, the Tampa Rays’ manager. Earlier Valentine paid tribute to Maddon for his ability to surprise.

The idea of being unpredictable … I hope I’m unpredictable. Most of the guys I’ve managed against that I thought were pretty good managers were predictably unpredictable. You could be sure that you’re not sure. Whether it’s the first inning or the ninth inning, I think that’s important.

The problem with the Red Sox– 2011 edition— was their predictability. They could be counted on to take one base at a time and to work deep into the count when they were at the plate. The strategy can be effective, except when it is always your strategy. It was too easy to anticipate the Red Sox and too easy to surprise them.

Maddon pressed the advantage of surprise in every game with the Red Sox, which partly explained why he had such a lopsided record against them.  The Rays were always pressing for another base, whether by stealing or aggressive base running. The Red Sox always looked like a team on their heels, trying to react to a team with an inferior, but unpredictable offense.

Saturday the shoe was on the other heel.  Although the squeeze play in the first inning failed when the bunt went foul, there was suddenly a feeling that the Red Sox had taken the offensive, an offensive they pressed in the second inning with what Valentine called a “fake steal of home.” Jose Iglesias apparently did not get the sign correctly and was out attempting to steal. Still the Rays were suddenly on the defensive. You could see this in later innings as the Rays’ catcher kept faking runners back to their bases. The Rays suddenly regarded the Red Sox as a threat to run.

As the game progressed you felt the Red Sox in command, and the Rays on the defensive. Sometimes the Red Sox hitters went with the first pitch, sometimes they worked the count. Sometimes they stole second, sometimes they waited at first. It was the sense of unpredictability that kept the Rays off balance and less instinctive. It also made the game more exciting for Red Sox fans.

Whether the Red Sox will win their division remains to be seen, but the odds of their improving their record against the Tampa Bay Rays are pretty good. The unpredictability quotient has shifted to the other side of the field. You can not doze on the Red Sox anymore.

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