Tuesday, October 25, 2011
A final look back at Game 5 wackiness
By David Schoenfield
ST. LOUIS -- Busch Stadium was quiet Tuesday, as both teams held optional workouts -- which means no workouts. No players showed up except required attendees Game 6 starters Jaime Garcia and Colby Lewis to conduct their pre-start media conferences. The players are all in various degrees of fatigue and pain by this time of the season and an extra round of batting practice isn't going to make them any more likely to get three hits on Wednesday.
The buzz, of course, was still about the crazy events from Game 5, primarily Tony La Russa's bullpen phone fiasco. He stuck to his story from the night before -- a miscommunication with bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist -- and patiently answered a stream of questions about the incident. "It's one of the things you deal with when you're playing the games. It's like shadows. But we don't have a procedure where you say this and the guy says 'Roger,'" La Russa said. "If the guy can't hear, sometimes he says it, and like I said, I thought yesterday the first mention of Motte was probably after [Lilliquist] had hung up. Maybe I didn't say it quickly enough. The second one, I said 'Motte,' he heard 'Lynn.' That's the only one way to explain that. You can't hear clearly."
Tony La Russa answered a steady stream of questions regarding his bullpen miscommunication in Game 5.
La Russa's version didn't exactly cease speculation of what may have happened. (One theory: Could he have misspoken and said "Lynn" when he meant "Motte," the way parents will mix up the names of their kids?) It also obscured what I thought was the biggest tactical issue of La Russa's in the game, the three sacrifice bunts.
Rangers Ballpark is one of the best hitting parks in baseball. Because of that, teams play for big innings. You don't want to play for one run in a place where one run is rarely enough. In the Rangers' 81 regular-season games in 2011, only once did a team execute three sacrifice bunts -- the Rangers on July 23 against the Blue Jays (all three of those came in the bottom of the ninth inning). Only four times did a team have even two sacrifice bunts in a game at Rangers Stadium.
In other words, teams don't bunt at Rangers Stadium. You just can't afford to give away free outs. At his media conference, La Russa said the difference in the game was not getting the big hits. True, but what if he had given his team 27 outs to play with instead of 24?
The other strategic element that got the blogosphere in an uproar was Ron Washington's four intentional walks, three to Albert Pujols. It worked, in the sense that none of those walks came back to haunt Texas. The fact that Washington became just the third manager to issue four intentional walks in a World Series game tells you how odd it was. If he tries it again ... well, don't be surprised if he gets burned.
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Here's a rundown of the two other instances in World Series play when a manager issued four intentional walks.
1. Bottom of eighth, tied 0-0: Pinch-hitter Randy Bush and Chuck Knoblauch had singled off John Smoltz to put runners at first and third with one out. Cox brought in lefty Mike Stanton and walked Kirby Puckett to load the bases to face lefty-swinging Kent Hrbek. Hrbek lined out into a double play, 4-unassisted.
Analysis: Cox didn't want to pitch to Puckett, who hit .333 in the series, so elected to go after Hrbek, who was 6-for-46 in the postseason at that point.
By the way, the Braves were next to last in the National League in intentional walks in 1991, with 39. Of course, with a good pitching staff, there wasn't necessarily a need for Cox to issue many free passes. In his final season managing the Braves in 2010, Cox issued the second-most intentional walks in the NL. This is another post, but it would be interesting to check into Cox's history here. When did he start handing out more freebies? Greg Maddux issued 16 in the postseason in his career, the most of any pitcher. Did these hurt the Braves?
2. Bottom of ninth, tied 0-0: Chili Davis singled and Brian Harper reached on a bunt single to send pinch-runner Jarvis Brown to second. Right-hander Alejandro Pena replaced Stanton. After Shane Mack failed to get a bunt down on the first pitch, he grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. Pena then intentionally walked lefty-hitting Mike Pagliarulo to face weak-hitting shortstop Al Newman. Tom Kelly pinch-hit Paul Sorrento, who struck out.
Analysis: This was a case of getting to an obvious weaker hitter. Newman was already in for starting shortstop Greg Gagne, whom Bush had hit for. That forced Kelly to use Scott Leius at shortstop in the 10th, his third shortstop of the game. By the way, Kelly could maneuver his lineup like this because he had 15 position players on his roster. Couldn't do that today. (This game was much more than just Jack Morris pitching 10 shutout innings.)
3-4. Bottom of 10th, tied 0-0: Dan Gladden led off with a double and was sacrificed to third. Cox walked Puckett and Hrbek to load the bases, to bring up Brown, batting in Davis' DH spot. Kelly still had one weapon left on the bench, Gene Larkin, who had hit .286 that year. Larkin delivered the winning hit.
Analysis: With the World Series on the line, it certainly made sense to load the bases to set up the force at home. You could argue that Cox could have pitched to the slumping Hrbek, but Hrbek was actually a pretty good contact hitter. Overall, however, none of the intentional walks seemed as questionable as the ones we witnessed in Game 5.
1. Bottom of first, down 1-0: Howie Pollet started and three of the first four batters singled to give Boston a 1-0 lead and put runners at second and third with one out for No. 5 hitter Rudy York, who hit .276/.371/.437 that year. No. 6 hitter Pinky Higgins hit .275/.356/.376. Al Brazle entered and Higgins grounded into a force at home and Leon Culberson also grounded out.
Analysis: A little early for an intentional walk, but York was considered an "RBI guy" since he had driven in 119 (batting behind Ted Williams helped) and hit 17 home runs while Higgins had hit just two in a part-time role.
2. Bottom of fifth, down 2-1: With Dom DiMaggio on second with two outs, York was given another free pass. Higgins grounded out.
Analysis: Most intentional walks are given while behind, so this one fits that bill. Clearly, Dyer decided he didn't want York to beat him, although York was hardly Albert Pujols. On the other hand, Pinky Higgins wasn't quite Matt Holliday.
3. Bottom of seventh, down 3-1: With Brazle still pitching, DiMaggio doubled and Williams struck out. York was walked for the third time. Higgins doubled to left-center for a 4-1 lead.
Analysis: This one was similar to the Nelson Cruz walk from Game 5 -- runner on second, one out. Dyer had less to lose than La Russa, however, since he was already trailing 3-1. Still, like Rangers Ballpark, Fenway Park was a great hitters' park, so giving the other team baserunners is always playing with fire.
4. Bottom of seventh, down 4-1: Following Higgins' double, Culberson was walked to load the bases. Brazle actually got a double-play ball, but it was thrown away, allowing two runs to score.
Analysis: Down 4-1, it was desperation time. We don't have intentional walk totals for 1946 (official records weren't kept until 1955), so we don't know if Dyer was fond of the free pass or just afraid of Rudy York.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.