Sometimes the worst managerial moves are the ones that weren't made, but the focus tends to be on the ones that were.
The vast majority of media and fans across the country agree that Tony La Russa out-managed Ron Washington in Game 1 of the World Series last night, which is hardly surprising. And most of the criticism has been directed at Wash's decision to pinch-hit utility infielder Esteban German for reliever Alexi Ogando with runners on first and second bases and two outs in the top of the seventh inning. The consensus pick to hit for Ogando was backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba.
While I was just as confused and frustrated as everyone else to see German -- a guy who hadn't swung a bat in a major-league game in 24 days -- at the plate against southpaw Marc Rzepczynski, it wasn't the worst job of managing by Wash last night. Not even close.
In fact, if you try really hard, you can kinda understand Wash's thinking there. Sure, German has just 73 big-league plate appearances in his three years playing for the Rangers, but he has a .314 BA and .808 OPS for Texas when given an opportunity. In 419 plate appearances this year, Torrealba hit .273 with a .705 OPS. He's also just 1-for-27 in his career as a pinch hitter and actually hit right-handers (.280) better than lefties (.256) this year.
With that said, Torrealba's four hits in nine ALCS at-bats against the Detroit Tigers and 21 games of postseason experience (compared to German's zero) make him the right choice. And, plus, what's the point of having effin' Matt Treanor on the roster if you don't hit Torrealba there?
Puzzling, no doubt, but not the biggest gaffe of the night.
In C.J. Wilson's first three innings on the mound, he successfully pitched around a walk to Rafael Furcal to start the game, a walk to David Freese in the second and a single to Nick Punto in the third. Even though Wilson appeared to be in control for the most part, his postseason wheels are known to fly off in an instant, which is why I suggested warming up Scott Feldman as the heart of the Cardinals lineup (Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman) was up to start the fourth.
Wilson proceeded to bean Pujols in the foot, allowed a double to Holliday and surrendered a two-run single to Berkman. In no time, Texas was down 2-0.
With NLCS MVP Freese up next, it would have been an excellent time to bring in Feldman, but, of course, no one was warming up in the bullpen for the Rangers.
Freese, who hit .357 against lefties in the regular season and has more postseason RBI this year than Nelson Cruz, just missed a two-run homer off Wilson. He hit it so deep to center field that Berkman, who has below-average speed, tagged at first base and advanced to second.
Wilson managed to minimize the damage by inducing a groundout by Yadier Molina on the next pitch and striking out pitcher Chris Carpenter after intentionally walking Punto. And then Mike Napoli hit a two-run blast in the next inning, tying the score at 2-2.
Despite Wilson's rocky fourth inning, no one was warming up in the bullpen when he took the mound for the fifth. For the second time, he walked Furcal to start an inning, and John Jay immediately laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Furcal into scoring position.
With one out and the best hitter in baseball at the plate, there still wasn't action in the Rangers bullpen.
Wash then called for the intentional walk of Pujols to set up the double play (not a bad move, but I would have pitched around him instead), and, wuddyaknow, Holliday ripped one to Adrian Beltre for a DP.
That was a big, big play for Wilson, and I can see letting him face Berkman to start the sixth since he's a much better hitter against righties, but you gotta put Feldman or Ogando out there to face the dangerous Freese no matter what happens with Berkman, right?
That wasn't an option for Wash because no one else was ready to come in the game. No one was even warming up.
So after Berkman popped out to Ian Kinsler, Freese clubbed a double to deep right center field to put the go-ahead run in scoring position.
Finally, Ogando started throwing in the bullpen.
Freese advanced to third on a wild pitch by Wilson, who subsequently nabbed another huge out with Molina at the plate -- striking him out swinging this time.
This was the perfect opportunity for Ogando, but, because Wash waited so long to get him loose, he wasn't ready to face Punto.
Wash then made his worst decision of the game, one for which there is no logical explanation. He had Wilson pitch around Punto -- a career .249 hitter and .133 hitter in the NLCS -- fully aware that La Russa would pinch hit Allen Craig for Carpenter. Craig, of course, is no Punto, with a .315 BA, 11 HR and 40 RBI in only 75 regular season games and a postseason homer in the NLCS.
Ogando was finally brought in but with no margin for error, and Craig hit a 1-2 pitch near the right-field line, just in front of a diving Cruz to give St. Louis a 3-2 lead.
La Russa, on the other hand, managed his bullpen masterfully.
Former closer Fernando Salas entered the game in the seventh to replace Carpenter, and La Russa wasted no time yanking him after he gave up a single to Cruz and walked Napoli. Left-hander Rzepczynski entered to face lefty David Murphy, and Wash countered with Craig Gentry, which made sense given Scrabble's dominance against left-handed hitters.
Gentry struck out looking and then German K'ed swinging.
In the eighth, La Russa wisely replaced Freese, who had two base hits defect off his glove earlier in the game (the first of which should have been ruled an error), with Daniel Descalso, a superior defender.
Octavio Dotel took the mound to dispose of right-handers Kinsler and Elvis Andrus, and then former Rangers reliever Arthur Rhodes retired an ailing Josh Hamilton.
La Russa made another smart defensive replacement in the ninth, putting Skip Schumaker in for Berkman, and closer Jason Motte slammed the door shut, even though a hit to third by Beltre was ruled fair when it had obviously deflected off his foot.
After the game, Wash said, "We certainly didn't lose tonight. We got beat."
No one knows what would have happened if Ogando faced Freese or Punto. Maybe Freese still doubles, and Punto gets his second hit of the game, and the Rangers lose anyway. Or maybe Ogando fans Freese and Punto doesn't even come up that inning, and the Rangers find a way to scrape out a win in extra innings. It's not like that hasn't happened before.
Either way, not having Feldman or Ogando ready for Freese ended up costing the Rangers a win, and having Wilson pitch around Punto was just wrong, wrong, wrong.
It would be dandy to attribute Wash's bad game to inexperience, but that's not the case. It would be nice to say it's the first time he's made that mistake in the postseason, but it's not.
Just six days earlier, he had a similar slip-up when allowing Wilson to stay in the game too long in Game 5 of the ALCS. After examining Wash's huge blunder, I discussed the same issue that I refuse to let die: mismanagement of the lineup.
Last night, it bit them in the ass again. The Rangers' 2 through 4 hitters -- Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton and Michael Young -- combined to go 0-for-11, and neither Young nor Andrus managed hit the ball out of the infield.
By Hamilton's own admission, his groin injury has him playing at about 50 percent. And while half of Hamilton is a better option than replacing him with Gentry or Endy Chavez, hitting him in the three hole doesn't make sense. At all. And, even with a lefty on the mound tonight, he's still hitting third.
Last night, I said if the Rangers beat the Cardinals, it would have been in spite of Ron Washington. Now I'm convinced that if they come back to win the series -- which I still think will happen -- that will be in spite of Washington too.
The players are gonna have to do this by themselves.
Four more wins. Just four more wins.
-- Not one reporter asked Wash after the game about keeping Wilson out there too long. Three questions about pinch-hitting German, but none about his bullpen decisions. I just don't get it.
-- I'll elaborate on this more after the series, but I've completely reversed course on Wilson. As the season came to a close, I put re-signing him just ahead of inking Nappy to a long-term deal on the list of Texas' offseason priorities. But Wilson's postseason résumé is now a large enough sample size to determine that he just can't cut it on the big stage.
In fact, I wouldn't hesitate to start Ogando or Feldman in Game 5, but, as Wash has shown, he's gonna live or die with Wilson on the bump.
Hopefully, the Rangers let someone else pay Wilson big bucks for too many years. Kudos once again to Jon Daniels and his crew for refusing to extend his contract earlier.
-- Gentry's in the lineup for tonight, with Murphy sitting because a lefty's on the mound. Gentry will play center, and Hamilton moves to left.
-- As expected, Matt Harrison has been named the starter for Game 3, pushing Derek Holland back to Game 4.
-- TV ratings for Game 1 were the second worst (2006) of all time at around 14 million viewers. It's really sad that folks in other parts of the country aren't interested at all and would apparently rather watch reality shows.
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-- The New York Post's Joel Sherman doesn't expect the New York Yankees to bid high enough for Yu Darvish and lists Texas and Toronto as the favorites to land the Japanese sensation.
-- There's no Texas starter I'd rather have pitching in a crucial Game 2 than Colby Lewis, who's 4-1 with a 2.37 ERA in six career postseason starts and has the only World Series win in franchise history. His counterpart, Jaime Garcia, is 0-2 with a 5.74 ERA in three playoff starts.
See y'all in the comments!
*Follow me on Twitter @SamMerten