Saturday, October 12, 2013
Beltran does it all as Mattingly messes up
By David Schoenfield
Eventually, we got to one of those postseason moments: Kenley Jansen, one of the most dominant relievers in the majors, facing Carlos Beltran, one of the most dominant October hitters of all time -- maybe the most dominant postseason hitter of all time.
Jansen had just entered the game in the bottom of the 13th inning with two runners on base and one out -- more on that later -- to face Beltran, he of the career playoff line of .345/.463/.761 entering this game, the highest slugging percentage ever in the postseason.
Batters hit only .177 off Jansen in the regular season, who basically throws a fastball that hits 97 mph and a deadly cut fastball that moves more like a sinker than the riding cutter that made Mariano Rivera a future Hall of Famer. He generates swings and misses on it as opposed to the weak contact Rivera often induced -- Jansen fanned 111 batters in 76 2/3 innings, walking only 18.
But in a 2-2 game, Jansen relieved Chris Withrow, who had given up a blooper to Daniel Descalso and walked Matt Carpenter. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had wanted to keep Jansen for a save situation but could no longer avoid using his best reliever.
Jansen threw a bunch of cutters and fell behind 3-and-1. He threw another one and Beltran reached down and lined it down the right-field line for the winning hit.
Oh, Beltran also doubled in two runs in the third inning and threw Mark Ellis out at the plate in the 10th inning.
Final score: Beltran 3, Dodgers 2. Winner: Lance Lynn. Loser: Don Mattingly.
Wait ... Mattingly?
If Game 1 showed us anything, it's that we should expect a tight, low-scoring series, which means managerial decisions will become more vital. Neither manager has a reputation for astute in-game strategic decisions -- as we especially witnessed with Mattingly in the Braves series -- although Cardinals manager Mike Matheny didn't seem to get criticized as much this season and has shown flexibility in matters like adjusting bullpen roles late in the season.
The Cardinals had a strange sacrifice bunt attempt in the seventh inning with Jon Jay, which didn't make a lot of sense considering the slow-moving Yadier Molina was on first, meaning he's not only more likely to get thrown out at second but less likely to score from second on a base it, and one of the next two hitters was weak-hitting Pete Kozma. The bunt didn't work as Zack Greinke threw out Molina at second and Yasiel Puig then caught a low liner on a hit-and-run play and doubled Jay off first.
But that bunt paled when compared to Mattingly's decisions. Paramount was his move to pinch-run for cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez with Dee Gordon after a leadoff walk in the eighth inning against Carlos Martinez. Puig grounded into a 6-4 fielder's choice and the Dodgers had lost Gonzalez. If you're not going to run with Gordon there -- and a steal attempt against Molina is risky -- or at least hit-and-run, then at least wait until Gonzalez reaches second base to pinch-run. There was no need to waste Gonzalez.
Sure enough, we got to the 10th inning and Ellis tripled with one out (thanks to a bad route by Jay on what probably should have been a single). With no Gonzalez to worry about, Matheny intentionally walked Hanley Ramirez to pitch to Michael Young -- who flew out to shallow right, with Beltran gunning down Ellis with plenty of room to spare.
Timeout. It looked as if Molina never actually tagged Ellis, just got him with his forearm. No umpire is going to call the runner safe there, but next year we'll have instant replay, Mattingly could throw his red flag and then all hell would break loose when Ellis is ruled safe. The umpires would need a police escort to leave the stadium.
But in 2013, it didn't seem to raise much of an uproar. Ball beat runner, runner out.
That pinch-running move haunted the Dodgers in the 12th inning, too. Carl Crawford led off with a single. Ellis sacrificed -- which in isolation isn't the dumbest move, but in this case it meant Matheny would again intentionally walk Ramirez and pitch to Young. 6-4-3, double play, rally over. The Dodgers would go 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Finally, there was the decision to use inferior relievers, hoping to get a save situation for Jansen. Ronald Belisario and J.P. Howell did pitch scoreless innings, but the Cardinals finally got to Withrow in his second inning. But the time Jansen got in there, it was too late.
Look, I realize I'm picking on Mattingly. The players do win and lose the games. If Young gets a hit or Andre Ethier catches Beltran's drive at the wall in the third inning or Gonzalez and Puig don't strike out against Joe Kelly with runners at second and third in the first inning, then it's a different story. But those things didn't happen and Mattingly's decisions proved costly in this game.
It was a great opener to the NLCS -- just the 12th postseason game ever to go 13 innings. I think we learned a couple of valuable things: The Cardinals have a better, deeper bullpen; Beltran is still a postseason god; Puig (0-for-6) will have to calm down a bit a the plate.
But the key question: Did Donnie Manager learn anything?