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Where's Craig Kimbrel? Not in the game

10/8/2013

Let's get the positives out of the way, because this game should be remembered for the heroics more than a managerial decision.

What a start by Freddy Garcia, who first appeared in the postseason with the Seattle Mariners back in 2000, when one of his teammates was Rickey Henderson.

What a gutsy effort by Clayton Kershaw, pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his career and allowing just two runs -- both unearned -- in six innings.

What a double by Yasiel Puig, leading off the bottom of eighth inning by scooting a 2-2 fastball past a diving Freddie Freeman into the right-field corner, leading Vin Scully to exclaim, "The wild horse is loose!" as Puig sprinted into second in about two blinks of the eye.

And, of course, what a home run by Juan Uribe, a guy many had wanted the Los Angeles Dodgers to release in the offseason, eating the final year of his contract. Manager Don Mattingly had asked him to bunt Puig to third to get the tying run 90 feet away. Uribe bunted two balls foul, laid off two close pitches -- Juan Uribe showing plate discipline! -- and then tomahawked a high fastball from David Carpenter into the left-field stands for a shocking two-run homer that held up as a 4-3 Dodgers victory when Kenley Jansen closed it out.

It was a thrilling game to cap off an amazing day of baseball. Four games that had a little bit of everything. But … I can't avoid it. Note that I wrote "David Carpenter" and not "Craig Kimbrel."

It's simple really: The Braves had to win this game. Lose, and they go home. Somehow they lost -- in the late innings, no less -- without using the most dominant relief pitcher in the game. Kimbrel did not throw a single pitch.

Look at that note above from Jeff Passan. Consider that Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was willing to use Kimbrel for four outs in Game 2 -- but not six outs in a must-win game. Not six outs even after Puig had led off with the double. It's managing to a statistic instead of managing to win. Gonzalez decided he'd rather get Kimbrel a "save" than put his team in the best possible position to win.

The sad thing is, Gonzalez apparently didn't even think of using Kimbrel for two innings. "I think six outs isn't something we were even talking about in the dugout," he said after the game.

But what’s the difference between four outs and six outs? Six pitches? Ten pitches? And that doesn’t even factor in that the Dodgers had the 5-6-7 hitters due up in the eighth and the 8-9-1 hitters up in the ninth. What part of the lineup is more likely to score runs?

So instead you lost a game with a guy who had a 6.07 ERA last year for the Houston Astros.

As the Braves hit in the ninth inning, the camera panned to Kimbrel in the bullpen, warming up. At one point he turned to the bullpen coach and said, "I'm mad because …" I'm not exactly sure what he said after that, although one person on Twitter surmised it was "I'm mad because I told him if we have the lead in the eighth, I want the ball." We'll see if Kimbrel confirms that, but even if he didn't say that, his look of disgust, standing there with his hands on his hips, will haunt Braves fans all winter.

This should be covered in Managing 101. You can't lose a game without getting your best reliever in there, especially one with Kimbrel's credentials, at some point. Who cares if it's the seventh inning or the eighth inning or the ninth. Just use him. Isn't that the most important thing? I'd rather lose with Carpenter in the ninth inning or the 10th inning or whenever, at least knowing I had used Kimbrel at some juncture.

Look, managing your bullpen in a structured manner in the regular season is one thing.

October is not the regular season.

Fredi Gonzalez didn't think the best reliever in the game can get six outs.

He ended up getting none.