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October 12, 2009

Playoff Prospectus

A Game Three Classic

by Joe Sheehan

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More than the cold, more than another critical missed call, more than one manager taking the game and the other giving it away, what I'll remember about last night's Rockies/Phillies game is the sheer number of great pitcher/batter confrontations. The difference between this game and the Twins/Tigers one-game playoff, the most recent "great" game this season, is that the playoff game wasn't well-played and is better remembered for the failures of its players, the mistakes by the managers, the terrible umpiring. Last night's game was played at a higher level.

There were so many quality at-bats, many from players who you don't expect to have them. With the bases loaded in the fourth, Raul Ibañez fell behind 1-2 then battled back to work an eight-pitch walk that tied the game. There was Carlos Ruiz, the slap-hitting catcher, pushing the count to 3-2 in the third, chopping a pair of balls foul, then grounding a single into left field to salvage a final run from a rally nearly killed by Pedro Feliz's double-play ball. Feliz himself came up big in the eighth, yanking an 0-2 slider into left field for a double. Leadoff man Jimmy Rollins, coming to the plate in the ninth having played poorly all year and on into this series, working the count to 3-2 against Huston Street and grounding a single to start the game-winning rally. Carlos Gonzalez had three hits on the night, including a big homer in the fourth, but never looked more like he was ready for the majors than he did fighting off Brad Lidge sliders in the ninth to reach on an eight-pitch walk.

We don't think about pitchers having quality at-bats the way we do batters, but hurlers came up huge in this game as well. Perhaps no pitcher made a bigger mark on the game than did Ryan Madson. Forced into the game when Scott Eyre rolled his ankle, asked to warm up on the game mound in the cold in front of 50,000 freezing fans demanding he get on with it, sent in to retire the Greatest Rockie Ever with no one out and the winning runs on base, Madson pitched Helton beautifully, seven pitches in which he changed speed and location and when he needed to, overpowered Helton. The sequence reads like a clinic:

  • Fastball up and away, foul
  • Fastball up over the plate, ball
  • Changeup, up and away, ball
  • Fastball, up and away, outer edge of the zone, swing and miss
  • Fastball, down and in, foul
  • Changeup, low and away, foul
  • Fastball, way up, swing and miss

If the Phillies win the series, if they go on to repeat as champions, that's where it happened. The Phillies were on a path to lose the ballgame, they were forced into an awful matchup by circumstance, and their guy beat the other team's guy. That the Rockies tied the game on a sacrifice fly one batter later takes nothing away from the fact that Madson saved them in that critical spot, that getting out of that inning tied was a victory. You can put an S next to whomever you want-Madson got the save last night.

The Rockies countered with Rafael Betancourt, who after being victimized by Feliz's bloop double, pitched out of it by overpowering Ruiz, then taking on Matt Stairs, who is on the roster just for this spot, who hit a huge homer one year ago in almost the exact same situation that essentially ended the NLCS and won the Phillies the pennant. Betancourt went with his best pitch, his fastball, kept going away, away, away, and on the seventh pitch, away again, got Stairs to swing and miss to end the rally.

Now, I want these things to be the takeaway, to remember these incredible baseball moments, these high-tension, high-performance confrontations. I don't want anything else to cloud them, and yet…

Chase Utley reached first base on a dead ball, and that play allowed the winning run to advance, and the winning run scored on the next out, when maybe it wouldn't have. This, too, is part of the story, another failure by the men charged with seeing the game and ensuring that it is played by the rules. They failed to do so, failed to see that Utley's ninth-inning bouncer in front of the plate hit Utley, still in the batter's box, in the right thigh. Rather than ending the play, a foul ball, the contact caused the ball to bounce to a dead zone, from where Huston Street could not get Utley at first base. As a double became a foul ball in New York on Friday, so did a foul ball become an infield single on Sunday-because an umpire failed.

The Rockies didn't argue that, though Jim Tracy did argue the play at first base, which was a close call that may have gone against them as well. Even in the absence of an argument, though, we're left with what happened-a foul ball-and what was deemed to happen-a single that led to the game-winning run. We're left to wonder why another baseball game has been gone down a path other than what the bats and the balls and the gloves have dictated, and to wonder why we allow the hopelessly fallible men to make decisions when there are better means of doing so.

I don't want this game, this beautiful baseball game, to have been about that. I don't want to think about it and wonder how it should have gone had the reality been observed and not interpreted. And I suppose I'm asking, as someone who has loved baseball since before he can remember, for Commissioner Selig and anyone else who can repair this problem to do so, because everyone deserves better than what the human element is providing us.

It should be "The Phillies played well and won this game." Instead, we're left with an "and," a "but," a "what if." I imagine even Phillies fans-like Yankees fans Friday night, grateful but sheepish-want better than that.

---

In addition to playing well in this game, the Phillies were managed much better than their counterparts were. Charlie Manuel was aggressive, yanking J.A. Happ in the fourth inning when a chance to open up the game presented itself with Happ due to bat. When Eyre was injured, Manuel went to his best reliever, even though it was the seventh inning, because he had to save the game right there. When restraint was called for, though, he exercised it, allowing Joe Blanton to attempt a sacrifice in the top of the sixth with the Phillies up a run, two men on and one out. Manuel knew he had three right-handed batters due up and needed innings from Blanton. Other than the ninth-inning sacrifice by Shane Victorino-which is defensible-I think Manuel had a terrific game.

(The following paragraph is completely and totally wrong due to a massive factual error on my part. See the comments for an explanation. My apologies to Jim Tracy and to BP readers for the mistake.--JSS)

Jim Tracy, on the other hand, made mistakes, none bigger than in the ninth inning. I was thinking, in the bottom of the eighth, that the Rockies might be better off not scoring. With a lead, Tracy would certainly use his closer, Huston Street, against the top of the Phillies' lineup. This would create an edge for the Phillies. In a tied, game, though, Tracy might use Joe Beimel, a stronger choice given the players involved and their skill sets. Tracy surprised me, though: he used Street in a tied game, and while going to the best reliever in a tied game in the ninth is usually praiseworthy, the special circumstances of playing the Phillies-the Ryan Howard Factor-mean that Beimel was clearly the better choice. Street wasn't hit hard, but he wasn't the best man on the roster for the job of facing the hitters he faced. Tracy setting up the inning to allow Howard to face a right-handed pitcher with the game on the line was asinine, and that Street retired Howard-or that the out record should have been the third of the inning-in no way makes it less so.

Tracy also should be chided for his assignment of pinch-hitters. He used Seth Smith in a situation, for the pitcher the sixth, where it would be criminally easy for Smith to be neutralized by Scott Eyre. He allowed Ryan Spilborghs and Clint Barmes to bat against Chad Durbin in the eighth in a spot where any left-handed pinch-hitter would have been a better choice. He constructed a lineup with Yorvit Torrealba in the fifth slot in the order, which is a pretty clear sign that you can't sort out the relative strengths of your personnel. Tracy's game management was a problem in the second game of this series, and it cost the Rockies the third. When you have to overcome the other team, the elements and the umpires, life's hard. When you have to beat your own manager, too, it's probably too much.

I'm writing this early Monday afternoon due to some scheduling issues, which has given me a chance to see some of the coverage of the game. Much of it seems to be focused on Brad Lidge getting three outs before allowing a run. Is this really the lesson we're taking from last night? I saw a guy who started five straight batters off 1-0, who walked two of the five men he faced, who threw 11 balls and nine strikes, who got one swing-and-miss, and who seemed to have absolutely no idea where the ball was going when he released it.

I think Lidge got incredibly rescued by Brad Hawpe, who hit a weak ground ball on a 1-0 pitch to start the ninth. It was a horrible decision by Hawpe given Lidge's command problems and the value of a leadoff baserunner in that situation. Don't you have to be open to the possibility of a four-pitch walk? A 2-0 count? A 3-1 count? Don't you have to give Lidge a chance to hang himself? Hawpe threw him a rope in a spot where we weren't quite sure yet if he could swim on his own.

As far as I'm concerned, we're still not. Lidge may have succeeded in the big picture, but if Manuel and the Phillies think he's now a high-leverage option, they're wrong.

I'll have wrap-ups of the three series that are now over later tonight.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Brad Hawpe,  The Who,  Huston Street,  The Call-up

28 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Rob_in_CT

Grateful yet sheepish - exactly. Well put. It's sad that the umps have missed so many calls in really tight ballgames. The call on the Mauer non-double, the non-call on the Inge HBP in the 163rd game, the call at 1st in the Sox-Angels game 1, etc.

Oct 12, 2009 13:36 PM
rating: 0
 
chriscaroy

Joe -

I too was freaking out about the lack of 8th inning PH's (including the decision to let Ian Stewart rot on the bench) and the choice to send street out to face Utley-Howard. But Beimel was already burned in the top of the 5th (he threw only 1 pitch to Howard, in a situation where he should've been brought in to face Utley).

The issue is that colorado constructed a roster with only 2 left handed pitchers against a lh-leaning lineup. Franklin Morales came in and dominated the top of the 7th against Utley/Howard, requiring only 6 pitches. Since he's a starting pitcher, I think it would've been reasonable to give him a shot at Werth with Ibanez up next. If that goes well, maybe he could last til the big guns come up again.

So yeah, a lhp in the 9th was required...but impossible due to having 9 rhp's on the roster

Oct 12, 2009 13:36 PM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I sincerely apologize. Both watching last night and going over it again today, I completely and totally missed that Beimel pitched in the fifth.

It's a catastrophic error on my part that completely invalidates that entire section of the column.

Oct 12, 2009 13:46 PM
 
chriscaroy

Well it was easy to miss since he was in the game for roughly 35 seconds!

No worries joe, we all know what you were getting at. I still can't believe they only have enough southpaws to throw 7 pitches...that's the catastrophic error here.

Oct 12, 2009 13:55 PM
rating: 0
 
doncoffin
(422)

No comment on Tracy's playing for one run in the bottom of the 7th? Down 5-4, following a leadoff double, he had a hitter with a .363 OBP lay down (what was supposed to be) a sacrifice bunt...the fact that Scott Eyre fell down (so the bunt turned into an infield single) does not, as far as I'm concerned, mitigate the quality of the decision.

Oct 12, 2009 13:45 PM
rating: 1
 
chriscaroy

maybe this wasn't a great, sabermetric decision...but it was also 20+ degrees out. not exactly ideal hitting conditions and certainly something to consider just as much as fowler's splits vs lhp. his speed also makes any bunt an adventure for the defense, again, on a night when moving and gripping a ball on the run was no easy task.

Oct 12, 2009 13:50 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I didn't hate this bunt because of the details. Playing for the tie in the bottom of the seventh is fine. You're bunting with a left-hander on the mound (whose motion takes him toward third) and Ryan Howard at first, so not only is the chance for success very high, there's a higher-than-usual chance for a throwing error.

Fowler didn't lay down a give-up bunt, but really a push bunt into the triangle between the mound, first and second. I don't know if he intended this, but the effect was a bunt that was going to be a tough play even if Eyre had stepped cleanly.

It wasn't a bad call, all things considered.

I really want to crawl into a hole right now.

Oct 12, 2009 13:55 PM
 
antoine6

Don't feel too bad. Your main point was that Manuel outmanaged Tracy, and that holds true regardless. I mean, that was pretty well established after Tracy handed in the lineup card, wasn't it?

Oct 12, 2009 13:56 PM
rating: 1
 
danbuttolph

As a Rockies fan, I've been looking forward to this analysis all day - yet I'm left disappointed. Beimel was already used in the 5th to get Howard with a man on. One of the few moves that Tracy got right.
Also, where is the criticism for Tracy letting Belisle hit, made even worse by the fact that CarGo went yard in the next AB, and then Belisle getting pulled after only getting two outs in the next inning? If you're going to pull him that quickly, why let him hit?
Or what about sticking with the righties in the lineup even after Happ was pulled. The best lineup includes Stewart and Smith and even Hawpe over Atkins and Spillborghs. Once it was clear that they were down to their last LHP in Eyre, why not bring in the left handed reinforcements?
Interesting note - the Denver media and some in the nat'l media are writing the narrative: Tracy as genius. Hard to swallow while watching this series go down the drain on Trace's watch.

Oct 12, 2009 13:50 PM
rating: 1
 
danbuttolph

Sorry, didn't mean to pile on for the Beimel error. Took me too long to write my post.

Oct 12, 2009 13:53 PM
rating: 0
 
antoine6

Letting Belisle hit was stupid. Tracy could have easily double-switched Stewart for Atkins when he brought in Belisle, especially now that the left-handed starter for the Phillies was out of the game. Made all the sense in the world; even though Atkins had hit the ball well twice, he wasn't going to be likely to face a lefty again.

Oct 12, 2009 13:55 PM
rating: 0
 
chriscaroy

unfortunately manager of the year jim tracy thinks a double switch is something used in 3 card monte.

Oct 12, 2009 14:07 PM
rating: 0
 
prs130

Beimel got burned in the 5th inning after Utley walked with 2 outs. He threw only two pitches to Howard and popped him up.

Tracy pulled him for Contreras, presumably because Contreras dominated Werth (and Feliz) in Game 2. Contreras didn't have the same command. I thought Beimel would stay in to face Werth and Ibanez (who hurt Contreras). Hats off to Charlie for putting Werth between the two lefties.

Feliz had a terrible AB with the bases loaded, tapping a 1-1 offering back to a pitcher who was struggling badly. Greg Dobbs also had a terrible AB.

Oct 12, 2009 14:03 PM
rating: 0
 
prs130

I'd also like to add that the commentators were terrible. They were slobbering all over Hammel, who got shelled the first time through the order. Everyone but Rollins, Victorino & Happ hit rockets, but that didn't keep TBS from calling him 'sharp' over and over. I knew he'd get rocked the second time through, and he did...

Oct 12, 2009 14:07 PM
rating: 1
 
Sal T

I can defend,albeit weakly, the HBP on Inge and the other bad calls. With one exception. The purpose of having extra umpires for the post season is to call fair or foul on balls hit down the line. In other words the sole purpose you are there is to make that call. The job was invented to make that call. No billowing jersey. No ball/runner convergence.Just a simple one side of the line or the other. Thats it. Thats why you're there enjoying the extra pay. How in heavens name do you blow that call?

Oct 12, 2009 14:04 PM
rating: 3
 
Swingingbunts

Joe, I still go back to Selig's idea of rotating the umpires throughout the playoffs instead of them being there on merit. The best umpires should be working playoff and World Series games. The idea that all umpires are equal and they all should get a chance to work Playoff and World Series games is ludicrous. The best teams go to the playoffs, the best umpires should too.

Oct 12, 2009 14:11 PM
rating: 2
 
jdavlin
(630)

I think the Stairs at bat was yet another example of the egregiously bad umpiring in the game today, as Stairs saw maybe 1 strike in the entire sequence, with two laughably outside pitches called strikes. Just awful. MLB really has become the NFL (or the NBA for that matter), where officiating in playoff games often decides the outcome. It's why I've long since given up on the NBA, and why almost every NFL season lately leaves me with an empty feeling when it's all over. It doesn't bother me nearly as much with those sports, as I don't hold them as dearly as I do baseball. But it's just maddening and seems to get worse every year.

Oct 12, 2009 14:34 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

Is this based on the TBS box? Because that graphic is unusable. I'm not sure why, but they've been laterally off in all eight parks this round. So Betancourt's pitches, all around the outside corner to one extent or another (and almost all in the same place), looked way outside.

Oct 12, 2009 14:52 PM
 
Richie
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Baseball is an entertainment medium. I don't see where it should be anything beyond that, but if you do, super.

If you slow the game down any MORE, myself and millions of other folks will get bored enough so as to up and leave. Taking our $$$ with us, which the owners and players quite understandably don't want to see happen.

So if you want to show you're cognoscenti and we're not, go ahead and talk about adding replay to the game. Indulge yourself. But till you figure a way to make replays work quickly, understand all the rest of us will be properly ignoring you on that.

Oct 12, 2009 14:59 PM
rating: -6
 
Patrick

A thirty-second replay a few times a game is enough to make you so bored you give up on baseball? Especially when the short delay is to make sure the correct call is made?

Baseball is entertainment, but it's based on the idea of fair play. Replay helps ensure that. Football games last longer on average than baseball games and their replay system didn't send bored fans away in droves.

Oct 12, 2009 15:17 PM
rating: 0
 
rmorgan93

Not to pile on Jim Tracy but - okay, what the hell? Might as well pile on Jim Tracy. Here's a copy of what I wrote earlier today. Much of this has been covered here already, but I think not all of it.

"Tracy should have pinch-hit Hawpe for Spilborghs in the 8th, and Stewart for Atkins. Brad Hawpe is, arguably, the worst defensive right fielder in baseball. To let Spilborghs hit in a tie game, only to lift him for Hawpe at the top of the next inning, well. What else can that be but trying to lose? Joe Beimel is apparently being kept on a strict pitch-count somewhere around 4. The Rockies baseball club doesn't seem to have access to secretly guarded information such as lefty-right splits, or at least won't share it with their manager. Unless it's the starter, Ryan Howard should never EVER be facing a right-handed pitcher. Using Torrealba instead of Iannetta is dumb as can be on its own merit, but hitting Torrealba 5th, which sets up a four-man set of Torrealba/Atkins/Spilborghs/Barmes is very, very stupid. The insistence on Dexter Fowler over Seth Smith. Bringing Matt Belisle, the Rockies' very worst relief pitcher, in to pitch in critical situations in both games 1 and 3. It's an absolute cornucopia of idiocy. But the team has evidently chosen not to set the bar any higher than 'better than Buddy Bell' and so he'll probably get a 3-year extension after this."

Oct 12, 2009 15:03 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian24

Yeah, re: Joe's point on the TBS box, during one of the games last week 4 straight pitches were shown to be way, way inside. Three were called strikes and the batter swung at the other one and fouled it off. The batter didn't complain or even look like he disagreed with any of the calls. That's when I knew the box was undependable.

PS, the "Post Reply" button doesn't work for me for some reason. Anybody else experience that problem? When I click on it I just get a msg saying "Error on page."

Oct 12, 2009 15:20 PM
rating: 1
 
Ameer

Yesiree, it seems to be an IE8 problem. I know the site developers probably have a ton of work to do at all times, but I hope fixing the "Post Reply" button in IE8 is high on the priority list. I'm sure a huge number of BP users primarily browse with IE8 (and some, like me, don't have a choice while we're at work...)

Oct 13, 2009 07:26 AM
rating: 0
 
drmboat
(754)

Two things:
1) Umpires-My favorite was the semi-intentional walk where the 2-0 pitch was thrown 6 inches outside and called a strike. Even the announcers mentioned that it was "meant" to be a ball but didn't harass the ump for turning what was definitely a ball into a strike.
2) Colorado 9th inning-I don't think it made a difference in the game, but the double-switch with Street made little sense other than the idea that you double-switch in the NL if the pitcher is next up. Were you really going to have Street pitch multiple innings in freezing weather? Isn't every one of your pitchers (the ones not burned earlier) rested due to the snow day? By pulling the double-switch, Tracy burned a potential PH in a tie game instead of holding onto him until the right moment.

Oct 12, 2009 18:36 PM
rating: 0
 
jkaplow21

Ok, I know the negative ratings are coming, but...

Rocks in 4.

Oct 12, 2009 20:03 PM
rating: -1
 
akachazz

Don't know where else to say, so I'll say it here: That roundtable was great. Hope you guys do some more.

And... for God's sake when's that other article coming out, Joe? I can't wait much longer...

Oct 13, 2009 07:58 AM
rating: 0
 
hessshaun

On the initial series analysis earlier in the week, in the comments I mentioned that this game could literally have a book written on it. The number of events to analyze and look at are staggering. Instant classic for sure and it's really too bad that most of the country did not see that game.

I personally think that Tracy's biggest mistake was batting Torrealba 5th. It still makes zero sense to me and I don't care how great a series he had at the plate.

Oct 13, 2009 08:10 AM
rating: 0
 
beatkilla

Regardless of the outcome, just an excellent last two games of the series to enjoy as a baseball fan, and (although I hope not) this could be the best we get out of this particular postseason.

Nice to see Carlos Gonzalez display the kind of player he has shown flashes of becoming for much of the second half of the season - and this is even without him getting a chance to show his ability defensively this postseason...he could be a huge breakout candidate for next season, with a very real shot at being a 30/30 guy.

Oct 13, 2009 08:23 AM
rating: 0
 
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