Plenty of second-guessing after Sox loss

Plenty of second-guessing after Sox loss
October 8, 2013, 1:00 am
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The best postseason games, with their twists and turns, frequent lead changes and key strategic decisions, often lend themselves to the most second-guessing.
      
In Monday night's ALDS Game 3 between the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays, there were enough moves -- and non-moves -- to keep fans debating all winter.
      
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon made some curious decisions, including voluntarily relinquishing the designated hitter when he replaced injured Wil Myers in right with DH Matt Joyce instead of moving Ben Zobrist to right and inserting Kelly Johnson at second.
      
Later, in the ninth, with his team leading by a run and pinch-runner Xander Bogaerts at third and one out, Maddon didn't have his infield in to cut down the tying run at the plate. That enabled Bogaerts to score without a throw when Dustin Pedroia hit a routine grounder to Yunel Escobar.
      
But Red Sox manager John Farrell made his share of controversial decisions, too.
      
1) In the fifth inning, with the Sox leading 3-0 and Tampa runners at second and third, Farrell elected to pitch to Evan Longoria with first base open.
      
Longoria foiled that strategy when he drove a pitch out to left for a game-tying three-run homer.
      
Did he think about giving Longoria a pass and pitch to the slumping Myers?
      
"No, [because it would have brought] the go-ahead run to the plate," said Farrell. "Clay [Buchholz] had struck him out and popped him out on two other changeups and he got ahead 0-and-1. The changeup [that Longoria hit out] was near the spot that he tried to throw one down and in on him, but he just didn't get to the bottom of the zone as much.
      
"But, no, no consideration on walking him."
      
Worrying about bringing the go-ahead run to the plate as early as the fifth inning sounds a little specious, but Farrell's trust in Buchholz was understandable, even if the ensuing result didn't correspond with what he had hoped.
      
Buchholz had, in fact, handled Longoria well in the previous two at-bats, and had allowed only four homers all season in 108 1/3 innings, none with two runners on.
      
2) In the eighth inning, with lefty Jake McGee pitching in relief for the Rays, the Sox had runners at first and second, two out and Stephen Drew due at the plate.
      
Drew struggled mightily against left-handers this season, hitting just .196 against lefties.
      
In September, Farrell was asked if he had been reluctant to pinch hit a rookie right-handed bat like Bogaerts for an established veteran like Drew.
      
Without directly answering the question, Farrell said he would give some consideration to making such a move when the situation called for more "urgency."
      
A potential series-ending playoff game certainly qualified as urgent, but as it turned out, Farrell had some sound reasoning to not make the move Monday night.
      
"McGee has been dominant against right-handed hitters," explained Farrell. "He's almost a right-handed reliever in some ways because of the strong reverse splits he has. Stephen is a good fastball hitter. We know McGee is going to come at us with 95 percent fastball, if not more. There was no hesitation to leave Stephen at the plate."
      
The reverse splits aren't as drastic as Farrell hinted, but they're there nonetheless. McGee allowed a .648 OPS against right-handed hitters and a .678 to lefties. Righties hit .217 and lefties batted .235.
      
Moreover, the Sox might have some misgivings about inserting Bogaerts into the game defensively in a such a tight game on a Tropicana Field surface that he had little experience with.
      
3) In the same eighth inning, David Ortiz to lead off the inning, making it four times he had reached base. Farrell lifted Ortiz for a pinch-runner, inserting Quintin Berry.
      
Berry then swiped second (though replays indicated he may have been out, with second-base umpire Matt Winter missing the call). But Mike Napoli grounded out to short and, following a walk to pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes, McGee fanned Jarrod Saltalamacchia and got Drew to pop up to third. Berry never advanced past second.
      
And wouldn't you know it, the Ortiz spot, then occupied by Berry, came up again in the ninth. The Sox used Mike Carp, who took a called third strike for the final out in the inning, stranding Jacoby Ellsbury, representing the tying run, at third base.
      
Ortiz defended the move.
      
"I don't like coming out of the game," said Ortiz, "but I think it was a good move. We almost got what we were looking for -- Berry advanced to second base, nobody out . . . We just didn't bring the guy in, but I think it was a good move."
      
"Yeah, we [struggled with that decision], we [did]," said Farrell. "[But] in that situation, not knowing if his spot is going to come back around, we didn't want to miss an opportunity. Berry does his job, get the stolen base. Unfortunately, we [didn't get him home]. But no, I don't second-guess that pinch-run move there."
      
But perhaps he should have. While Carp is no slouch, and is, in fact, one of the best bats in the league to bring off the bench -- recall his game-winning pinch-hit grand slam here in mid-September -- Ortiz is one of the game's best hitters. And in the eighth inning of a tie game, there was no telling how many Ortiz at-bats were being sacrificed with the move.
      
In this case, even one was too many.