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Quick thoughts: An unlikely hero in Gomes

10/28/2013

Another fun World Series game, with big hits, big decisions and a final score of Boston 4, St. Louis 2.

Hero: Jonny Gomes. Inserted into the lineup only as a replacement for Shane Victorino, who couldn't go because of lower back tightness, Gomes was chosen over Mike Carp, even though Cardinals starter Lance Lynn has a sizable platoon split, and has been much less effective against left-handed hitters. Gomes has sort of been John Farrell's hunch bet this postseason, even though he entered the game hitting just .152/.200/.212. In fact, his .125 career average in the postseason entering the game was the lowest of any active player with at least 40 plate appearances. When he grounded into a double play in the second inning, the second-guessers had a good laugh.

In the fifth, still facing Lynn after David Ortiz hit a leadoff double, Gomes fell behind 0-2 but worked a 10-pitch walk, with Ortiz eventually scoring the tying run on a sac fly.

In the sixth, Dustin Pedroia singled with two outs and Lynn gave Ortiz a four-pitch intentional unintentional walk. It was an interesting set of decisions by Mike Matheny that inning:

1. He could have brought in a lefty to face Ortiz. Remember, Ortiz hit a pedestrian .260/.315/.418 against left-handed pitchers in the regular season. Matheny was either (A) influenced by the fact that Ortiz had homered off Kevin Siegrist and singled off Randy Choate; (B) not wanting to pitch to Ortiz with anybody; or (C) factoring in that there were still at least three more innings and wanted to save his lefties for later in the game, especially with Carlos Martinez unlikely to pitch for the fourth time in five days.

2. Let Lynn pitch to Gomes.

3. Bring in a reliever to pitch to Gomes.

Lynn was at 89 pitches and had allowed five of the previous 10 batters to reach base. While it certainly seemed strange to pitch around Ortiz and then pull Lynn, I can understand the decision to go to Seth Maness, especially considering Gomes' tough at-bat against Lynn the previous inning.

Anyway, in came the rookie and his sinkerball pedigree. Maness threw a 2-2 sinker that didn't sink and Gomes crushed it into the left-field bullpen for a three-run homer and 4-1 lead.

Goat: Maness gave up the home run. Matt Holliday and Matt Adams went 0-for-8 in the third and fourth slots. But Kolten Wong, WHAT IN THE NAME OF LOU BROCK WERE YOU DOING? Pinch running in the ninth, Wong got picked off first base for the final out with Carlos Beltran up as the tying run. Carlos Beltran. One thing we've learned the past two nights: We can't predict the endings to these games. Why was Mike Napoli even holding him on with two outs?

Wasn't going to happen: There were some calls on Twitter to hit for Lynn in the bottom of the fourth with two runners on and two outs and the Cards up 1-0, the arguments being: (A) Lynn probably isn't going to go much deeper in the game; (B) it was a high-leverage pinch-hitting opportunity (maybe for Allen Craig); (C) the Cards have a deep bullpen.

I disagreed with the premise. First, no manager is going pinch hit there, considering Lynn had cruised through four innings facing the minimum. Second, I'm not sure the Cards' bullpen was that deep for this game. Consider that Martinez was probably unavailable, Matheny has little trust in Edward Mujica and Shelby Miller has barely pitched in a month and is clearly an emergency-only option. You would be asking for five innings from your relievers. Third, you'd be facing a mutiny from your starting pitchers if you pulled a guy pitching a one-hitter after 50 pitches. While there is a sabermetric case for hitting there, it's a hard one to transfer to a real-life situation.

Velocity isn't everything: With Clay Buchholz battling shoulder tightness, the Red Sox weren't exactly sure what they'd get out of him. In his two starts against the Tigers in the American League Championship Series he allowed just one run total in the first five innings of those games, but six runs in the sixth innings. So Farrell had to figure he'd get five innings at the most, or somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 pitches. Buchholz's velocity was down in the first inning, topping out at 89 mph when he's normally at 93-94 in the early frames. But he battled, and while his fastest pitch was 91 mph (his final one), he kept the ball down, making it through four innings and 66 pitches before being lifted for a pinch hitter. The only run he allowed was unearned, when Jacoby Ellsbury bobbled a hit to allow Matt Carpenter to get to second base. Maybe this performance wasn't quite Curt Schilling and his bloody sock, but it was a gritty effort.

At-bat of the night that wasn't a three-run homer: The Cardinals score a run in the seventh to cut the deficit it to 4-2, two runners on, Holliday up. Junichi Tazawa comes on. Holliday takes a called 93 mph fastball for a strike, what looked like a pretty hittable pitch. He then hits another fastball hard on the ground but right to Pedroia.

The bottom of the eighth: As my editor said, using Johnny Wholestaff in Game 4 of a seven-game series is a bit unusual. Even though Koji Uehara threw just three pitches in Game 3, Farrell went to Game 2 starter John Lackey. He pitched around a Xander Bogaerts two-base throwing error and a wild pitch to escape the jam (Jon Jay popped out with Yadier Molina on third and one out) to preserve Boston's 4-2 lead. Now ... just because it worked doesn't mean it was the right decision. I'm not saying it was the wrong move; certainly Farrell had a good idea of what Lackey could give him on two days' rest, but it was still a little bizarre that he didn't go to Uehara for six outs or five outs and even four outs.

Big, indeed: Ortiz went 3-for-3 with a walk and was involved in every Red Sox rally. At the point of his double in the fifth inning he had seven of Boston's 20 hits in the World Series. In four games, he's hitting .727/.750/1.364. The key in the final three games may be whether the Cardinals can figure out how to get him out.