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Worst decisions in World Series history

2/2/2015

In honor of Pete Carroll's decision in the Super Bowl -- you know the one, already cemented in history as the worst play call in Super Bowl history (although maybe it wasn't a horrible call) -- let's have a little fun with a list of the worst decisions in World Series history.

Dave Cameron reports that the Seahawks had an 88 percent chance of winning when facing second-and-goal from the 1-yard line. He tried to find a similar equivalent in baseball, although a similar scenario is difficult to match in baseball. Even a team with the tying run on third and winning run on second with no outs would have a win expectancy of only 71 percent, aside from the strengths of the hitters and pitchers involved.

We can increase the odds by instead focusing on the defensive team. When the Red Sox led the Mets 5-3 in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 10th, their win expectancy was 99 percent -- maybe a little less if you factor in that Calvin Schiraldi was pitching. When Mariano Rivera took the mound in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 in 2001 with a 2-1 lead, the Yankees' win expectancy was 86 percent -- and a little higher with Rivera pitching.

Anyway, this list isn't based on mathematical probability but simply looks at some managerial decisions in key moments of the World Series that didn't work out.

1986, Game 6: Buckner stays in the game

Speaking of the Red Sox and Mets, John McNamara left in Bill Buckner in that fateful 10th inning even though he had used Dave Stapleton as a defensive substitute in all seven of Boston's previous postseason wins. Mookie Wilson's grounder went through Buckner's legs and the Mets won the game -- although keep in mind the Mets had already tied it before Buckner's error ... and the Red Sox still had a chance to win the series in Game 7.

1986, Game 7: Too much Schiraldi

Less remembered but worthy of its own criticism is McNamara's decision to bring in Schiraldi in the seventh inning of Game 7 with the score tied 3-3. Ray Knight, the first batter he faced, hit a go-ahead home run, and the next two batters singled and eventually scored. The Red Sox did have a thin bullpen that year, but Schiraldi was a rookie coming off a horrific loss in Game 6 who had also faced 16 batters in that game. Although there was a rainout between Games 6 and 7, he had probably thrown 60 to 70 pitches in Game 6. On the other hand, McNamara didn't have a lot of good choices after starter Bruce Hurst. Roger Clemens had started Game 6, and "Oil Can" Boyd, his No. 3 starter, wasn't exactly available since he was drunk and strung out on crack.

1925, Game 7: The Big Train goes the distance

Game 7 between the Senators and Pirates was played on a cold and rainy day in Pittsburgh, and it would grow colder and wetter as the game went along. Hall of Famer Walter Johnson started for Washington. He was 37 years old and on his last legs as a pitcher, but still had enough zip on his fastball to go 20-7 with a 3.07 ERA in the regular season. He already had won twice in the series, and Senators manager Bucky Harris was determined to ride his star. Washington scored four runs in the top of the first, but the Pirates chipped away, getting to within 4-3, then 6-4 and then tying the score at 6-6. Johnson stayed in the game, as the grounds crew spread sawdust on the mud-slick mound. The Senators took the lead in the eighth, but the Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the inning -- all with two outs -- to win 9-7. Johnson went the distance and allowed 15 hits. Yes, it was Walter Johnson and his defense let him down with two errors, including a crucial one in the eighth. Still ... who gets left in to allow 15 hits in Game 7?

2003, Game 4: Where's Rivera?

The Yankees were a game up on the Marlins and had tied Game 4 on Ruben Sierra's two-run triple in the ninth inning with two outs. The game rolled along. Jose Contreras pitched the ninth and 10th innings for the Yankees. Jeff Weaver then pitched a scoreless 11th. Joe Torre sent him back out for the bottom of the 12th, but Weaver gave up a leadoff home run to Alex Gonzalez. The series was tied, and the Marlins took the next two games to upset the Yankees.

How do you lose a crucial game without using the best closer of all time? Torre said he couldn't use Rivera because it was a tie game on the road. "I had no options," he said. "People say bring in Mariano. I had no options. It was an extra-inning game on the road. There was never consideration of other options." By choosing to wait for a save situation and limit Rivera to one inning, however, Torre ignored what he had done throughout Rivera's postseason career, which was to often use him for more than one inning and, at times, in tie games. Rivera had pitched two innings the day before -- throwing 23 pitches -- but that shouldn't have been reason to use Weaver without first getting Rivera into the game.

2009, Game 4: Manuel sticks with Lidge

Closer Brad Lidge had been one of the heroes of the Phillies' 2008 World Series champions -- converting all 41 of his save chances in the regular season and all seven in the postseason. But 2009 was a nightmare season for Lidge: 0-8, 7.21 ERA, with a lot of hits, home runs and walks allowed. The Phillies were able to overcome his ineffectiveness to win 93 games, but manager Charlie Manuel stubbornly stuck with Lidge as his closer. You knew it would eventually blow up in a big way in the postseason, and it did in Game 4 when Lidge entered in a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning and coughed up three runs. The Yankees won the series in six games.

1958, Game 7: Frank Torre hits third

The Milwaukee Braves of the late '50s and early '60s were an enormously talented team. They won one World Series title in 1957 and reached Game 7 in 1958, but they should have dominated the National League for a longer stretch. Fred Haney managed the club from 1956 through 1959, and, in '58, he platooned Frank Torre (Joe's brother) with Joe Adcock at first base. Torre was a better glove and did hit .309 in 1958 that year, but he hit just six home runs in 372 at-bats. Eddie Mathews didn't have a great year in '58, hitting .251/.349/.458, but he did hit 31 home runs. And Wes Covington hit .330/.380/.622 in 324 plate appearances.

In Game 7, Haney hit Red Schoendienst (.313 OBP) leadoff, Bill Bruton (.336 OBP) second, Torre third, Henry Aaron cleanup, Covington fifth and Mathews sixth. Imagine if a manager rolled out a lineup like that today. In the first inning, after Schoendienst and Bruton reached on a single and a walk against a shaky Don Larsen, Haney had his No. 3 hitter ... bunt. You're not bunting there with Mathews or Covington. Mathews was later intentionally walked in the inning as Del Crandall left the bases loaded. Instead of playing for a big inning, the Braves scored just one run. The score was tied 2-2 in the eighth when the Yankees scored four runs with two outs.

2001, Game 5: Brenly turns to Kim ... again

After Byung-hyun Kim served up home runs to Tino Martinez and Derek Jeter in Game 4 -- throwing 61 pitches -- for some reason Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly thought it was a good idea to have him close out Game 5. I was in the auxiliary press box for that one and remember all the writers criticizing the move before seeing what happened next -- Scott Brosius hit the tying home run (and who can forget Kim crouched on the mound in despair) and the Yankees won in 12 innings. Brenly survived the blunder as the Diamondbacks won Games 6 and 7.

1947, Game 4: Almost a no-hitter

Yankees right-hander Bill Bevens threw hard, but he also had no idea where the ball was going. In Game 4 of the '47 World Series against Brooklyn, he took a 2-1 lead and a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth. But he'd also walked eight batters. He walked Carl Furillo with one out in the ninth, then pinch runner Al Gionfriddo stole second with two outs. Yankees manager Bucky Harris -- yes, the same guy from 1925 -- then ordered Pete Reiser intentionally walked, going against convention that you don't put the go-ahead run on base. Pinch hitter Cookie Lavagetto then hit a game-winning two-run double. That tied the series up at two games apiece, although Harris and the Yankees went on to win Game 7.

Those are just a few, and I didn't even get to Ron Washington's performance in the 2011 World Series (let alone some of the decisions from other rounds of the playoffs). Next time...