Best strategy sometimes manages itself


*TC The Orioles' 3-2 win over Kansas City in Sunday's series finale provided a clear case of "outside" baseball prevailing over the "inside" variety. And not just because all of the Orioles' runs came from home runs.

Dust off the cobwebs from the fourth inning, when Manny Alexander drew a walk with one out and became the first base runner against Kansas City's rookie starter, Melvin Bunch. The pattern for a low-scoring game already had been set, influencing Orioles manager Phil Regan to force the action in search of a run. He got it, but not necessarily the way he had planned.

During Rafael Palmeiro's at-bat, Alexander was caught trying to steal second base for the second out. Palmeiro promptly responded with a home run that accounted for all of the scoring through the first six innings.

Where does the "outside-inside" theory come into play?

Back up to Alexander's attempted steal. We'll never know what would've happened had he been successful, but it's not against the rules to do a little surmising. The Orioles were without a hit at the time, Palmeiro is a dangerous left-handed hitter and Bunch is a right-handed pitcher who had retired Cal Ripken (the next batter) on a routine fly ball in their previous encounter.

Had Alexander reached second base with one out, would Palmeiro have gotten the same pitch he hit over the center-field fence? Or would he have gotten a pitch to hit at all? Would the Royals have pitched around Palmeiro -- or simply walked him intentionally -- to set up a possible double play?

Neither of those decisions had to be made after Alexander was thrown out. But they certainly would've been considered had he been able to steal second base. The first rule of thumb in such situations is to stay away from the big inning. The second is to try and take the easiest way out, facing the least number, and least dangerous, of the hitters involved.

As it turned out, Kansas City manager Bob Boone didn't have to make a decision because the strategy of his counterpart didn't work. And Regan was the beneficiary, getting the run he wanted, if not necessarily the way he had anticipated.

Now, fast forward three innings. Having made his impression on Bunch, Palmeiro led off the seventh inning with a walk. Once again, the Orioles were looking for a way to manufacture a run to give Jamie Moyer a cushion.

Ripken had struck out on a low and outside breaking pitch after Palmeiro's home run and Regan wanted to stay away from the double play. There was an element of surprise to a hit-and-run play on the first pitch.

With Palmeiro running, Ripken tried to hit behind him to right field, but fouled off the pitch.

A few seconds and 395 feet later, Ripken deposited the game's second home run into the left-center-field seats.

As was the case in the fourth inning, we'll never know what would've happened had Ripken put the ball in play on the attempted hit-and-run. Anything from a home run to a double play could've occurred. All we're left with is the end result.

Just two more examples of how the best strategy, like some trades, is often the kind you don't pull off.

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