The Rays are playing some Billy Ball.
The safety squeeze play with runners on first and third that Joe Maddon so favors, and used twice Saturday, was the suggestion of senior adviser Don Zimmer, who picked it up 35 years ago from the late Billy Martin.
"Martin used to drive me crazy with it," Zimmer said. "I wasn't smart enough to think of it — you know me."
But Zimmer saw enough of it managing against Martin in the late '70s and early '80s, and serving as a coach for Martin in New York in 1983, that he put the play to use when he managed the Cubs and again as a coach for Joe Torre with the Yankees.
And in Maddon's first spring on the Rays job, he made it a point to ask Zimmer about it since the Yankees had done it to the Angels when Maddon was a coach there.
The basic plan is relatively simple: Because it's not a suicide squeeze, the hitter can pick a workable pitch then bunts the ball toward first (because the first baseman is holding on the other runner), and the man on third only breaks for home when he sees that the ball is on the ground. As a bonus, the runner on first moves into scoring position at second.
"It's almost unstoppable if you do it right," Zimmer said. "Easiest RBI in the world."
The Rays have done it successfully at least 17 times over Maddon's four-plus seasons (according to baseball-reference.com data), and are continually looking for ways to tweak it.
"We've stumbled onto a few things with it," Maddon said. "They are his ideas presented to us, and we've been able to morph it a little bit."
Zimmer takes pride every time he sees it work. "Joe's a big advocate of it," he said. "In fact, he's used it probably more than I did."
Plus, Zimmer said, there's something to be said for passing something on. "Everything you do in baseball," he said, "there's a reason why you do it."