Top of the 10th inning, score tied 1-1. San Francisco Giants and the Cincinnati Reds. The leadoff hitter slaps a single to right field. But the next hitter -- Hunter Pence -- looking like he'd never tried to bunt before, fouled off an attempted sacrifice bunt on a pitch above his head.

He looked so bad doing it, in fact, the Giants' manager, Bruce Bochy, decided not to ask him to try again. The bunt sign came off.

So there was no bunting the runner into scoring position, which is what was called for in that situation. Pence, a $10-million-a-year player, and a guy I like because he always hustles no matter what, doesn't look like he could bunt his way out of a wet paper bag.

His top hand was wrapped completely around the barrel of the bat, two inches above the trademark. There's not a Little Leaguer in America who doesn't know that's lousy bunting technique, something learned by most 8-year-old beginners.

I'm not even a Giants' fan -- Reds, either, come to think of it -- and it darned near drove me crazy. I can imagine what true Giants fans might have been thinking and/or screaming at the top of their lungs.

Anyway, Bochy was caught between a wish and a prayer.

But Pence redeems himself -- sort of -- by pulling a seeing-eye ground ball single into left field. Men on first and second. Still no outs.

Every baseball fan in America knew what was coming next. Every knowledgeable fan, at least. Gotta get that runner on second over to third with less than two outs. The next hitter was going to bunt the two runners into scoring position to avoid the possibility of a double play killing the inning.


Didn't happen. The next hitter didn't even make an attempt. In fact, he struck out. Runners still on first and second.

What the heck was Bochy thinking?

And as everyone in the world was told by the announcers, Pence had a pulled calf muscle and couldn't run a lick. He's the guy on first base. The game was on the line. The Giants were down two games to none in the best-of-5-game series, and they'd either find a way to win or they'd go home.

So a pinch runner for Pence was called for even if a pitcher had to be used. Because if a ball had been hit on the ground, Pence would not have gotten close enough to second base to hinder the relay on an attempted double play. The inning would have been over.

But no pinch runner. Again, what was Bochy thinking?

That's when the baseball gods took over in favor of the Giants. Don't know why. Don't even care why. It's why baseball is the wonderful game it is -- miracles sometimes happen. A passed ball on the next hitter allowed both runners to move into scoring position. Pence practically walked down to second base.

That hitter struck out for the second out.

Then the next hitter hit a high-hopper toward one of the best-fielding third basemen in the Major Leagues -- Scott Rolen -- and he bobbled it for an instant. The hitter-runner was safe at first by a half step, and the runner on third scored the go-ahead and eventual winning run.

And it came off feeling like a God-awful mess. Baseball is like that sometimes, I guess.

But it is precisely the sort of game that has me saying to myself out loud how grateful I am for having learned the game of baseball in my youth from men -- Curly Holtzapple, for example -- who knew how the game was supposed to be played.

They understood strategy. They understood fundamentals. And the expectation was always that you'd know them, too.

There is no excuse for grown men playing in the big leagues not knowing how to bunt the ball when a sacrifice is called for. None. They make too much money not to be able to bunt the ball in a crucial situation.

But they don't. Too many of them can't. They work on what they already do well -- hit home runs, for example -- and the heck with the rest of their game. Don't ask them to bunt, run bases well or play defense.

Then we go to the bottom of the 10th inning. Down 2-1, the Reds needed to get a runner on base. So what does the leadoff hitter do? He swings at the first pitch instead of trying to work a base on balls.

The next hitter takes the first pitch for a ball and then swings at the second pitch, which was probably a ball, too.

That is not the way the game of baseball is supposed to be played.

I know this much: If I earned $10 million a year playing baseball, I'd be able to sacrifice bunt if called upon to do it. I'd be embarrassed if I couldn't. And if I wasn't any good at it, I'd work on it until I was good at it.

I'm a nobody from York, Pa., and I can't help but wonder why major leaguers put themselves and their stats above the needs of the team. I don't get it.

I see pitchers get ahead of hitters no balls and two strikes, and then instead of pitching two inches off the corner to entice the hitter to swing at a bad pitch, he throws one down the gut going for the strikeout. Result? Base hit. Or a double in the gap. Or a home run.

It drives me crazy.

I know ... short trip.

But it makes a man wonder if baseball is still a game of strategy and skill or a game of luck.

The Giants won Tuesday night because of luck.

It was a miracle.

Strategy be damned.

Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick