Wherever you stand on the obstruction call, you probably wish this game had been decided by a less ambiguous, controversial play. So it’s worth asking how we got to the point where this game could come down to where Will Middlebrooks fell. And the answer, in part (and as always), is “managerial moves.” Here, in reverse chronological order, are five moves that John Farrell or Mike Matheny made (or didn’t make) that helped set up Game Three for an infamous ending.
5. The Red Sox pitch to Jon Jay in the ninth.
John Farrell is not the intentional walk type: the Red Sox issued only 10 intentional walks all season, by far the fewest in baseball. But we know the IBB is in his postseason playbook, because he’d issued two earlier in this very game: once to get to David Freese with two outs in the fifth, Matt Adams on second, and Yadier Molina due up; and once in the eighth with the same base-out state, to get the right-handed Matt Holliday up against Brandon Workman instead of the switch-hitting Carlos Beltran.
In the ninth, Farrell was faced with what seemed like an even more obvious IBB opportunity, and he passed it up. After Adams struck out swinging to lead off the inning, Molina singled to knock Brandon Workman out of the game and pinch hitter Allen Craig doubled against Koji Uehara. That brought up the left-handed-hitting Jay with one out and runners on second and third. Uehara has no career platoon split, so it wasn’t imperative to play lefty/righty here, but an IBB still would have set up the force at every base and brought up a much weaker hitter (Pete Kozma, with Kolten Wong up after that). Tony Cruz was the only position player left on the St. Louis bench, so Matheny had no substitute for Kozma.
So did Farrell make a mistake? Maybe, but it’s tough to say for sure. Mitchel Litchtman did the math, and in this case, the expected outcomes of both scenarios are surprisingly similar, largely because Uehara issues free passes so rarely that he’s not a big risk to hand out a walkoff walk. Still, I’d guess that most managers wouldn’t have made the choice Farrell did. And had someone other than Jay been up, we probably wouldn’t be trying to parse what the rulebook says about obstruction.
4. The Red Sox let Brandon Workman hit in the ninth.
This may have been the most mismatched at-bat of baseball’s modern era. Workman had never had an at-bat as a professional player. He wasn’t a two-way player in college, so it’s possible that he hadn’t been in a batter’s box since his senior year at Bowie (Texas) high school (2007). And he was facing Trevor Rosenthal, who was throwing 97-98. AL pitchers in 2013 posted a collective .117 on-base percentage, and most of them probably had more recent offensive experience. With Rosenthal on the mound, I’m going to guess Workman’s expected OBP here was… .050? I’m in a generous mood.
Rosenthal threw three fastballs right over the plate, as if he hadn’t noticed Workman was there. And in the ways that mattered, he wasn’t.
I don’t need to make the case for why a pitcher who hasn’t hit before shouldn’t be allowed to cross “Have a big-league at-bat” off his bucket list in the ninth inning of a tied World Series game. Farrell made it for me, acknowledging that he should have double-switched after Jarrod Saltalamacchia made the last out of the eighth, inserting Workman into Saltalamacchia’s spot in the order and batting backup catcher David Ross ninth. The offensive gap between Ross and Workman in one plate appearance would have more than made up for the offensive gap between Saltalamacchia and Ross in any subsequent at-bats, had the game gone to extra innings. And since Ross is a superior defender, he might not have made that fateful wide throw to third in the bottom of the inning.
(Another way to think about this: Brandon Workman batted; Mike Napoli spent the game on the bench.)
3. The Cardinals bring in Randy Choate to face David Ortiz and Seth Maness to face Daniel Nava with two outs in the sixth.
Randy Choate can’t face right-handed hitters, but Kevin Siegrist can. That’s why bringing in Siegrist in the sixth, with one out, Shane Victorino on first, and David Ortiz due up, would have been the better move. The difference between Choate and Siegrist against Ortiz is minimal, but Daniel Nava, the next batter, has much more success against left-handed hitters. Matheny was hoping that Choate would retire Ortiz, which would have ended the inning, but he should have factored in what would happen if Ortiz got on.
Because he went with Choate, Matheny had to make another move after Ortiz singled, going with Seth Maness. Maness hasn’t had a platoon split (either this season or over the previous two in the minors), and he’s an extreme groundball guy, which is what Matheny wanted with men on first and third. But Nava is so superior from the left side that it would’ve been worth sacrificing some groundball double play potential to turn him around. And while Siegrist is a fly ball guy, he also misses bats much more often than Maness.
Maness got his grounder, but only after Nava singled to tie the game. You have to wonder whether Ortiz’s homer off Siegrist in Game One was a factor for Matheny; if so, it probably shouldn’t have been, since that was essentially the only time a lefty had hit a ball hard against Siegrist all season. And Ortiz entered that at-bat 3-for-9 with a walk against Choate, so if you want to play small-sample matchup, both lefties had been burned before.
2. The Cardinals let Joe Kelly start the sixth.
Kelly faced only two batters in the sixth, which was probably always the plan; he wasn’t going to see Ortiz again, even with two outs. But even those two batters were an unnecessary risk. We know that pitchers’ results get worse every time the lineup turns over, and Kelly’s aren’t good enough to begin with that he should have a chance to face two talented hitters for the third time when his team has a one-run lead and a rested bullpen. Sure enough, Victorino walked, and Dustin Pedroia hit a hard line drive that was caught by Freese, who was glued to the line. Victorino later came around to score.
If Matheny has an obvious flaw, it’s his slow hook with his postseason starters. And in Game Three, it came back to bite him again.
1. The Cardinals let Joe Kelly hit for himself in the fourth.
Kelly was effective and pretty economical early, throwing 51 pitches and holding the Sox scoreless through four. And he’s better with the bat than Brandon Workman. But with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, St. Louis needed a better bet to hit the ball hard. Daniel Descalso is St. Louis’ only lefty bat off the bench, but even if they’d gone to the contact-oriented, right-handed Shane Robinson here—instead of with two outs and no one on in the sixth, which is when he did pinch hit—it would’ve helped the Cardinals more than losing Kelly (who popped out) would have hurt them. Bases-loaded situations don’t often arise in October, and when they do, you have to make the most of them.
- Matheny did go to Trevor Rosenthal for five outs in a save situation. Sam Miller’s count of four-plus-out postseason appearances by closers continues to climb.
- He’s not a managerial move, but home plate umpire Dana DeMuth deserves a mention for his questionable interpretation of the strike zone:
Admittedly, Molina makes a lot of umpires look bad, but assuming the PITCHf/x system was properly calibrated, that’s an awful lot of red outside the strike zone. The best that can be said of DeMuth is that the distribution of his low and outside strikes wasn’t noticeably skewed toward one team.
- And finally, an underrated element of The Cardinal Way: St. Louis leads the league in mound hugs.