- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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It's been a fun postseason so far: Plenty of drama, upsets, a three-homer game, three winner-take-it-all games in the first round, a classic pitchers' duel, a walk-off grand slam.
But until Wednesday night, there hadn't really been an egregious managerial decision to second-guess. Sure, they were some minor ones to nitpick and critique, but you get a dozen of those every game. Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, however, had some whoppers in what ended up a 7-3 victory for the Texas Rangers.
We'll start with the final one: Jim Leyland walking Adrian Beltre with one out and Josh Hamilton on second base in the 11th inning, to face Mike Napoli. Beltre, still hobbled a bit from fouling a ball off his knee in Game 3, hadn't hit the ball out of the infield all series. Obviously, Leyland wanted to set up the double play. Now, besides the fact that Beltre hadn't looked good in this game, the biggest mistake here is that Napoli was arguably the best hitter in the majors in the second half, hitting .383/.466/.706. Also, Napoli doesn't ground into many double plays -- his career DP percentage is 9 percent, less than the major league average of 11 percent. Plus, unless Napoli did ground into a double play, it also ensured that Nelson Cruz would get a plate appearance in the inning. None of these are good things. Anyway Napoli singled in Hamilton and then Cruz crushed another home run, his fourth of the series.
Cruz, by the way, now has 10 career postseason home runs in just 94 plate appearances. He became the first player to have two extra-inning home runs in one series and joins David Ortiz, Bernie Williams and Javy Lopez as the only players with two in their career. Wow.
Yes, Jose Valverde is still perfect in save situations. I'm not sure it's fair to criticize Valverde too much. He's thrown 125 pitches now in the postseason, appearing in six of the Tigers' nine games. He was also pitching for the third consecutive day, although he did do that four times in the regular season.
In the previous inning, Leyland had Austin Jackson steal with one out and Ryan Raburn up. Nothing wrong with trying to get Jackson into scoring position, although if Jackson had succeeded (Napoli -- the guy the Angels didn't want behind the plate because they had Jeff Mathis -- gunned him down) and Raburn got out, it meant Ron Washington would give Miguel Cabrera a free pass.
Speaking of which, let's go back to the eighth inning, when the Tigers had a chance to win the game. Washington elected to intentionally walk Cabrera with one out. Tim McCarver called it gutsy, although maybe the gutsy move would have been to pitch to him. It was only the 10th bases-empty intentional walk in postseason history ... but the first that didn't occur with two outs. So a very odd move, and you know we don't like intentional walks (see: Beltre, Adrian). The other guys: Barry Bonds (four times), Alex Rodriguez (twice, both by Brian Fuentes in 2009), Frank Thomas, Albert Pujols and Greg Luzinski. While putting the go-ahead run on base in the eighth is certainly questionable, that was followed by having Michael Young hold Cabrera on first base. Where's Cabrera going in that situation? Nowhere. Sure enough, Victor Martinez hit a high hopper in the hole to right field, sending Cabrera to third base.
Delmon Young hit a medium-deep fly ball near the right-field line. Cruz -- with one of the strongest arms in the game -- fired a perfect one-hop missile to Mike Napoli. Cabrera was out by 10 feet. Should Leyland have run for Cabrera? The general consensus on Twitter was no. Although as a Tigers friend of mine emailed me, "Umm, Miggy ... would it kill you to lose 10 or 70 pounds?" But give Cruz credit: How awesome was his throw? Courtesy of friend-of-the-blog Mark Simon, it was the first outfielder-to-catcher double play with a game tied in the eighth or later since George Foster's throw in the classic Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
Anyway, Game 4 was a second-guesser's dream. Even Washington's decision to "save" Neftali Feliz worked out when Scott Feldman escaped the 10th with the help of Jackson's caught stealing. It's do-or-die time for the Tigers, but at least they have Justin Verlander going Thursday. He hasn't been that effective in the postseason -- eight runs in 13 innings. Considering Valverde and Joaquin Benoit will be running on fumes if needed, Verlander may need to go nine innings.
My only advice: Stay away from the intentional walks.