The bold move we didn’t see in Game 2

On Grantland, Jonah Keri argues that John Farrell should have used Koji Uehara in the 7th inning of Game 2, rather than Craig Breslow, once the Cards had two men on with one out. I agree — but rather than take up that argument, I want to discuss the historical precedent for such a move.

There isn’t any.

 

Well, I should be more specific … Of course, there is precedent for using a relief ace in the 7th inning of a World Series game. But let’s look at Farrell’s decision within the context of the closer age, where no relief ace is accustomed to pitching more than 2 innings in a game. To call on Uehara in that spot would mean that either he’s not going to finish the game, or he’ll have to work longer than he’s used to. Uehara has never gotten 8 outs as a reliever; he hasn’t gone that long since his final start, back in June 2009. He’s faced 8 batters in relief just twice, none since June 2011. He faced 7 batters once this year. With 8 outs to get, it seems possible that he would run out of gas.

So, I wondered: Has any World Series manager in a 7th-inning jam called on a relief ace unused to pitching more than 2 innings, creating a scenario in which the relief ace might not be able to finish?

I looked at all high-leverage World Series appearances since 1970 that began in the 7th inning; there are 58 such games with an average Leverage Index of at least 1.70 (i.e., they faced at least the tying run). One by one, I eliminated those that weren’t by the relief ace, and those where the relief ace was accustomed to finishing games from the 7th. And here’s all that’s left:

  • Jay Howell, 1988, Game 4 — 2.2 innings to save a 4-3 win

Howell was L.A.’s top closer that year, with 21 saves in 65 IP, and no stint longer than 2 innings. They did have Alejandro Pena, who saved 12 and finished 31 games, but he’d gone 3 innings the night before. They also had Jesse Orosco, before he became a pure lefty specialist; Orosco saved 9 and finished 21 games in 1988, but the matchup called for a righty. Howell relieved starter Tim Belcher with 2 outs and the tying run on 2nd, and AL MVP Jose Canseco coming up. He walked Canseco, and Dave Parker reached on an E6, but Mark McGwire popped out to end the threat. With the DH in effect, Howell went on to finish the game, facing a season-high 11 batters, retiring Parker with the tying run on 1st to end it.

The other high-leverage 7th-inning appearances by relief aces were made by those accustomed to pitching more than 2 innings — Tug McGraw (1973, 1980), Dan Quisenberry (19801980), Bruce Sutter (1982), Dave Giusti (1971), even Terry Forster (1978) and Steve Howe (1981). That one game by Jay Howell is the only time I could find that a skipper essentially said in the 7th inning, I need the big guy to protect the lead right now, even if he can’t take me all the way home.

I’m a little surprised by that. Of all the great closers we’ve seen in the Series since 1970, just one was ever asked to hold a slim lead at a point in the game that cast serious doubt on his ability to finish.

Many of us question the closer concept, the insistence that the relief ace must be used for a save (which requires him to finish), rather than facing the game’s key moment. We point to past eras, when a relief ace came in to put out a fire, any time from the 6th inning on. But with few exceptions, those firemen were also finishing those games. A manager with Sutter or Goose Gossage or John Hiller in the bullpen could choose to bring him in for the 7th without worrying about who else will pitch the 9th.

None of this absolves John Farrell or any other manager from the duty to think outside the box. But it does show just how thick the walls of that box are.

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78 Comments on "The bold move we didn’t see in Game 2"

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Voomo Zanzibar
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This move would sensibly be preceded by stretching out the closer in the final weeks of the season… which would of course create the danger of wearing out, rather than stretching out.

The walls of the box have been reinforced for 2+ decades.
Hard to see a manager (especially in Boston) make the “wrong” move.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Whoa Ho!
Peavy out after 4.
Betcha we see two innings out of Koji if this stays close.

Ed
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John: This doesn’t meet your criteria but it’s interesting nonetheless:

In the 1972 WS, Vida Blue came on in relief of Rollie Fingers and pitched 2.1 innings of relief to pick up the save.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CIN/CIN197210140.shtml

This was actually Blue’s second save that postseason, giving him as many career postseason saves as regular season saves (2 each).

Not to be outdone, Catfish Hunter also has a WS save in relief of Rollie Fingers though he only had to retire one batter to get his. And like Blue, he has as many postseason saves as regular season saves (one each).

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CIN/CIN197210140.shtml

donburgh
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Is Willie Wilson a quiz answer?

donburgh
Guest

Raines is one. (Runs scored hint made PI search easy.) Don’t have anything one the WS guy, though.

CursedClevelander
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The notion of using your closer in the 7th….I can see how the “box” is just too thick. Too many years of reinforcing the 1 inning closer role. But Farrell, the likely MOTY, made an inexcusable move tonight. You let a reliever hit in the 9th inning of a tie-game in the WS?!?!? And not even your relief ace! If he let Uehara bat to get him another inning, that’s one thing. Letting Workman bat with Napoli on the bench/Uehara in the pen…if an Indians manager did this, somebody else would have to type this post, because I’d either be… Read more »
Ed
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It appears that Workman hasn’t batted in a live game since high school! His baseball reference page shows him with no PAs in the majors and the minors. The Baseball Cube shows his stats with the University of Texas. Again, no PAs. His highlight’s page on the University of Texas website says he was a pitcher/shortstop in high school though it gives no indication of how well (or poorly he hit). A seriously bizarre decision by John Farrell.

birtelcom
Editor
Prior to Craig’s double last night, the most recent double in the bottom of the ninth of a tied World Series game was by Rusty Staub for the Mets in Game 3 of the 1973 Series. That one came with two outs, and John Milner failed to bring Rusty home. The Mets lost the game in the 11th on a walk, a passed ball and a single. Craig’s was the first extra-base hit by a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the 9th of a tied World Series game, and only the second hit by a pinch-hitter in that scenario. In… Read more »
Mike L
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Joyce’s ruling is correct. There are a couple of key points. First, the rule doesn’t require intent, so what Middlebrooks was thinking when he lifted his legs was irrelevant. If Craig hadn’t tripped over those raised legs, he would have been safe at home. That brings you back to whether Middlebrooks was still “in the act of fielding the ball” and, given the fact that it’s well past him and he should be able to see the outfielder headed to pick it up, the only argument you can make that he’s still “fielding the ball” is that he wants to… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
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There’s so much that is subjective about the very concept of the “baseline.” A runner is out of the baseline if he runs inside the line on the way to first, even though the bag is inside the line. Why not add a 2nd bag, like we do in beer-league softball? _____ As for the Craig play, why is Craig not considered out of the baseline for heading to home three feet to the inside of the bag? Say he didnt trip over Middlebrooks, and he ran three feet inside the line all the way home, and he was hit… Read more »
Voomo Zanzibar
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Voomo Zanzibar
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JIM JOYCE: He was right on the baseline. He was right on the chalk. And so that never played into any decision, at all, because he was ‑‑ he had slid, stood up, and he was literally right on the chalk.

JOHN HIRSCHBECK: Don’t forget, the runner establishes his own baseline. If he’s on second on a base hit and rounds third wide, that baseline is from where he is, way outside the line, back to third and to home plate, it’s almost a triangle. So the runner establishes his own baseline.

Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Jim Joyce was probably hoping to get through the rest of his career without any controversy.

Wonder if he watched the replay before stating that Craig was ” right on the chalk ” .

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kingcrab
Guest

did craig ever touch home plate? after the obstruction call, does he have to or is he just given the extra base?

birtelcom
Editor

B-Ref’s Play Index lists 70 World Series “blown save” appearances that lasted two innings pitched or less. Of those appearances, only five also generated positive Win Probability Added by the pitcher with the blown save. Two of the five were in last night’s game, both by Cardinal pitchers.

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