There’s a reason why Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and J.P. Howell aren’t starting pitchers, and there are reasons why the three of them aren’t top-notch closers. Sometimes, it pays to remember that.
For the last few days, sportswriters and baseball analysts have been tossing out the same old excuses. The Rays, they say, were thrilled to win two out of three in Boston. They were happy to return to the cozy confines of the Trop with a three games to two lead over the defending World Series Champion Red Sox. I wonder if they’re still so pleased.
On Friday, I discussed my belief that Joe Maddon should have turned to James Shields to close out Boston on Thursday. Had the move backfired, Shields would have gotten some work on a throw day. Had it succeeded, we wouldn’t be whiling the hours away until game seven. It is in this decision that good managers show their mettle and bad managers emerge.
I know people will long argue that Balfour had stellar numbers against lefties, that Dan Wheeler didn’t throw enough strikes. I know people will say that the series isn’t over yet, and it’s not. But it shouldn’t be here.
In the playoffs, managers have to take chances, and they have to recognize that sometimes what works during the regular season isn’t the best option. They have to realize that, when facing the opportunity to put away a resilient opponent, the best choice isn’t your bullpen but your number one starter for two innings.
Maybe Tampa will score four runs early against Jon Lester tonight and coast to a victory. Maybe Boston explodes against Matt Garza and a shell-shocked Rays team that had a World Series berth in its grasp. But the truth is that Tampa just shouldn’t be here. They had the Sox down and out and made a few strategic mistakes that could haunt them for a long time.