Win or lose, each game in every sport has room for second-guessing. Few managers or coaches will ever admit their mistakes, of course, because – at the time – they felt like they were making the correct decisions.
Monday night’s Game 3 between the Red Sox and Rays, a 5-4 Tampa Bay walk-off to extend its season another day, was filled with such calls.
Should John Farrell, for instance, have ordered an intentional walk of Evan Longoria with first base open and two men on in a game in which Boston led 3-0 in the fifth inning? In retrospect, clearly, but the Sox skipper said he gave it “no consideration,” given Clay Buchholz’s success against the slugger. One swing later, the game was tied.
How about in the eighth, the game still knotted at three, when David Ortiz led off the inning with a walk before he was replaced by Quintin Berry, who promptly stole second – though replay showed otherwise – and was stranded there? Big Papi’s spot in the lineup returned to the plate the following inning in a 4-4 contest, but pinch-hitter Mike Carp rested the bat on his shoulder and struck out to end a rally with the potential winning run on third.
But perhaps the most debated question mark was in that eighth frame, when Farrell elected to bat Stephen Drew against a lefthanded pitcher in Jake McGee, rather than lean on Xander Bogaerts. There were men on first and second and two down, the type of situation in which Farrell had hinted in the past that he’d pinch-hit for his veteran.
Drew put together a very good second half of the season, sure, but he’s still a .196 hitter with a .585 OPS against lefties this season. In his career, Drew has been marginally better at .235 and .681, respectively.
The reasons to leave Drew in were understandable. He’s got a better glove than Bogaerts, he’s a veteran with postseason experience, and he’s earned his team’s confidence and respect at a crucial juncture. Moreover, Bogaerts had yet to appear in the playoffs, he had just 50 plate appearances as a rookie in the major leagues (the last coming more than a week prior on Sept. 29), and only twice has he been called upon as a pinch-hitter, going 1-for-2.
But, Bogaerts also hit .467 with a 1.089 in a limited sample against lefthanders. That’s after he batted .298 with a .926 OPS for Triple-A Pawtucket in the same such role this year.
There was a school of thought that had Bogaerts entered the game, so too would have righthander Jamey Wright, but that’s no certainty.
Ultimately, Drew lifted a foul pop to third to end the inning.
After the game, Farrell was asked if he wrestled at all with the decision.
“No,” he said. “McGee has been dominant against righthanded hitters. He’s almost a righthanded reliever in some ways because of the strong reverse-splits that he has. Stephen’s a good fastball hitter. We know McGee is gonna come at us with 95 percent fastballs, if not more. There was no hesitation there to leave Stephen at the plate.”
Perhaps not, but the move wound up having lasting effects.
In the bottom of the inning, the Rays were able to snap the 3-3 tie with help from an infield single by Yunel Escobar on a ball that traveled perfectly up the middle before it was reached by a converging Drew and Dustin Pedroia behind the second-base bag. In the ultimate irony of perhaps too much defense, the odds are that Bogaerts wouldn’t have reached the hopper. Then, Pedroia’s singular scoop may have resulted in a double-play and prevented a pinch-hitting Delmon Young from having the opportunity to drive home what was at the time the go-ahead run.
If the Red Sox scored as they did in the ninth when Joe Maddon opted to pitch to Pedroia with two men in scoring position – a Rays second-guess! – perhaps Koji Uehara’s first home run allowed since June 30 would have tied the game and not ended it.
There are no guarantees that Bogaerts would have done anything different than Drew had he gotten his chance, so now we’re left to wonder about that among a slew of other what-ifs, like why a thinly-trusted bullpen received a combined one inning from Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa. Bogaerts failing there, however, would have been easier to accept than Drew doing so in a spot he seemingly didn’t belong.
After all, if that wasn’t the right time to give Bogaerts his opportunity, what’s he doing on the playoff roster in the first place?
An ice cream headache’s worth of second-guesses for us, while the Red Sox have the far more important task of ignoring the noise and preparing for another chance to eliminate the Rays.
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Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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