Washington's curious move works, and Rangers are back in business
Ron Washington made a questionable decision two outs in the eighth inning
But reliever Darren O'Day retired Buster Posey, which is all that matters
Bengie Molina provided his pitcher with important guidance for that key out
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Here's the single and indispensable fact about baseball manager moves: If they work, they work. That's all. Everything else is static. Maybe the move is statistically unwise. Maybe the move is bizarrely reasoned. Maybe the move, if argued in front of the Supreme Court of Great Baseball Minds, would be voted down unanimously (even with Casey Stengel arguing the case).
In the end, it really doesn't matter. If it works it works. Saturday was obviously the most important game of the season for the Texas Rangers, with them down two games to none in the World Series. And in the bottom of the eighth inning, with two outs, with San Francisco's Buster Posey convincingly portraying the tying run at the plate, Rangers manager Ron Washington did not go with his 100-mph whirlwind closer Neftali Feliz. He went instead with side-arming righty Darren O'Day. This was the move Washington felt in his heart.
Was it the right move? Statistically? Emotionally? Strategically? What does right even mean?
It worked. O'Day got his man, Feliz (FINALLY pitching in a postseason save situation) suffocated the ninth inning, Texas won the game 4-2, and we have ourselves a World Series. Coming in, most of us expected this to be the tone of the series -- low scoring, brisk pace, good pitching, tough late-game decisions -- but in San Francisco the Rangers deteriorated in the late innings and allowed 11 and 9 runs to a Giants team that had trouble scoring runs all year.
The home crowd seemed to settle down the Rangers. A three-run home run from rookie Mitch Moreland in the second inning seemed to settle down the Rangers. Most of all, Texas starter Colby Lewis seemed to settle down the Rangers. He hammered the strike zone again and again and again -- for one stretch throwing 26 of 30 pitches for strikes -- and the Giants mostly wilted against the force of his will.
Still, games like these almost always call for at least one critical game decision by the manager. And if it works ... well, go back for a moment to the 1996 World Series. Game 5. The New York Yankees led 1-0 in the ninth inning. They had runners on first and second and a chance to put the game away. The Yankees manager Joe Torre -- bizarrely, if you think about it now -- let his pitcher, Andy Pettitte, hit. Torre's thinking was that he wanted Pettitte to pitch the ninth against switch-hitter Chipper Jones and lefty Fred McGriff. It was pretty suspect reasoning, and went wildly against Torre's later go-for-the-throat managing style.
Nothing about the move worked, by almost any definition of that word "work." Nothing. Pettitte made the third out. He promptly gave up a double to Jones, and McGriff moved him over to third with one out. So, tying run on third, one out. Then, only then, Torre brought in his closer, John Wetteland, who barely got out of the inning after giving up a smash to Luis Polonia that Paul O'Neill reeled in for the last out.
|Giants vs. Rangers|
|San Francisco leads series 2-1|
|Game 4: @TEX Sun., Oct. 31, 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX|
|Game 5: @TEX Mon., Nov. 1, 7:57 p.m. ET, FOX|
|Game 6: @SF Wed., Nov. 3, 7:57 p.m. ET*, FOX|
|Game 7: @SF Thur., Nov. 4, 7:57 p.m. ET*, FOX|
The Yankees, of course, went on to win the game, the World Series, and the 1990s. Joe Torre went on to a certain Hall of Fame managing career and now has four World Series rings. If it works, it works.
So, here was Darren O'Day pitching to Buster Posey in the eighth inning. Two outs. Man on first. It has been an interesting career for O'Day. He was undrafted out of the University of Florida. He was left off the roster by the Angels, and was taken by the New York Mets Rule 5 Draft before the 2009 season. That same year he was picked up on waivers by the Texas Rangers and, same day, rushed to Toronto where he was thrown into a game just in time to give up a walk-off hit to Kevin Millar. The Rangers did not even have a jersey for him -- he used a teammate's.
It's a familiar story for submarine style pitchers. They usually have to force their way into baseball, have to silence doubter after doubter. O'Day pitched quite brilliantly for the Rangers. His New Wave fastball is in the 80s but it moves. His slider breaks hard. Iin 2010, right-handed hitters managed only a .181 batting average against that fastball-slider assortment. Yes, he can be a handful. And Ron Washington, coming into this series, had his mind made up: He loved the match-up of Darren O'Day vs. Buster Posey. He wanted that match-up when it mattered. And Washington set it up. The two battled. O'Day got two strikes. Posey fouled one off, then refused to chase three straight balls, the last two just off the plate. With a full count against Posey, O'Day had an idea of what he wanted to do. His only trouble was that his catcher, Bengie Molina, had a very different idea. O'Day shook him off. He stepped off the mound. He shook his head again. He stepped off the mound again. Finally, Molina walked out to the mound to talk.
"He said, 'I don't know what you want here, man,'" O'Day would say. "So I told him what I wanted -- which I can't tell you. And then he told me what he wanted."
Molina wanted a hard-breaking slider on the outside corner. He had played with the Giants. Posey had replaced him as catcher there. Molina had a powerful idea of the right pitch for that moment. O'Day swallowed hard and nodded. He had thrown that outside slider to Posey in Game 2 of this series, and Posey managed to punch it up the middle for a soft single.
"So I told him, 'Hey, I trust you,'" O'Day would say. Molina went back behind the plate, and O'Day would try to remind himself of something every pitcher should think in those situations: That hardest job in the ballpark is the hitter's job. The hitter doesn't know what's coming. The hitter is facing the pitch, and nine defenders (if you call the pitcher a defender) and he will make an out most of the time no matter how good he happens to be. Buster Posey is awfully good. But he's a rookie. He's in his first World Series.
"Hitting a baseball," O'Day would say, "is a hard thing to do. It's so easy to forget that."
O'Day threw his pitch, that slider on the outside corner, the perfect pitch really because if Posey had let it go the umpire probably calls it strike three. Posey swung but he could not do anything with it. He stuck out his bat and the dribbled a grounder toward shortstop. O'Day stayed away from it ("I wanted no part of that ball"), allowed shortstop Elvis Andrus to charge, scoop it up, throw out Posey, end the threat, end the inning, make this World Series competitive again.
So, yes, Ron Washington's move worked. Even after it worked, there was much discussion about the wisdom of the move. Shouldn't he have gone with his best guy in the biggest moment? Won't that sort of conventional thinking (a closer only pitches in the ninth inning) bite Washington before the series is over? But that stuff is just talk. It's fine for the bars, talk radio, Twitter, and postgame columns like this one -- in the world of talk a move can work and STILL be wrong. But not on the baseball field. The move worked on Saturday night in Texas. And the Rangers are back in business.