10/30/08 1:09 AM EST
Managers go all in with decisions
Chess match won by Phillies' Manuel in Series-clinching game
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel's first move of the game looked a lot like a bluff, and the Rays' Joe Maddon called him on it. And it got more entertaining from there. Only 18 outs were recorded in the 78 minutes of play Wednesday night, but it seemed like there were multiple decisions for every one of those outs.
It started with Manuel's decision on a pinch-hitter for the No. 9 spot in the order. He called on Geoff Jenkins, perhaps expecting Maddon to remove Grant Balfour in favor of a left-hander. But Maddon didn't budge, remaining with Balfour to face the lefty-swinging Jenkins. It can certainly be argued that both men made the right decision.
Burning Jenkins, who had struggled badly, in order to get an alternate matchup would have been very shrewd. Chris Coste, for example, against a left-hander would have been a fine look for the Phils. Likewise, Maddon was smart not to counter, since it would have been foolish to overreact to a relatively non-frightening hitter like Jenkins. Manuel insisted he planned to stay with Jenkins regardless, but it would have been interesting to see if he stuck to that.
"I wanted to keep [Greg] Dobbs and [Matt] Stairs both back and for the eighth or ninth inning," Manuel said. "I knew it was going to go back around, and I was going to keep them back because I might hit for the guys in the bottom of the order."
Jenkins doubled and scored, making Manuel's call the effective one, but neither skipper faltered on the first exchange.
Balfour, understandably, remained in the game for switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins and righty Jayson Werth, before the lefty-swinging two-headed monster of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard came up. At that point, Maddon summoned J.P. Howell.
Maddon also had David Price waiting and perhaps ready to go multiple innings. The problem there was that the pitcher's spot was due up fourth in the next inning for Tampa Bay. So Maddon would either have had to double-switch -- and there were no viable options for that -- or let Price hit. Instead he went with Howell, who had a brilliant season, and waited for Price's turn.
For the seventh, Manuel rightly got very aggressive, going straight to his pre-ninth-inning hammer, Ryan Madson. The right-hander retired the first batter he faced but quickly got into trouble, allowing a home run and a single.
With the pitcher's spot up, one out and a runner on first, Maddon made what may have been his most controversial decision of the game. He left Howell in to bunt, despite the fact that the Phillies' next inning started with a dangerous right-hander in Pat Burrell.
"I also liked J.P. all the way through Burrell, and it just didn't work out," Maddon said. "But I did. So that's why you saw J.P., once we tied the score, going out there to bunt. I know that was kind of a crazy thing, but he got a great bunt down and we almost scored the run."
Howell did, in fact, advance the runner, but Jason Bartlett was thrown out at home when Utley made a brilliant play on Akinori Iwamura's infield hit. And so the game headed to the bottom of the seventh once again tied.
Even though the bunt worked, sticking with Howell did not. Burrell doubled off the lefty, and Howell immediately came out of the game. Maddon still held off on Price, one of the darlings of this postseason, instead going to ground-balling right-hander Chad Bradford.
Choosing a right-hander was the proper call. Shane Victorino, though a switch-hitter, has consistently been more effective against left-handers than rights. Pedro Feliz typically all but vanishes against righties, and Carlos Ruiz has a slight reverse split but doesn't scare anyone against right or left.
And Bradford, it must be noted, came very close to escaping with no damage. He got a grounder from Victorino for the first out, but that ball advanced pinch-runner Eric Bruntlett to third. Thus, Tampa Bay rightly brought its infield in -- and got burned for it.
Feliz poked a single through the drawn-in infield, scoring Bruntlett for the winning run. Bradford got two more grounders to end the inning but once again, Tampa Bay trailed.
"Before the game, I wanted [Bradford] within that group -- Victorino, Feliz, Ruiz. I thought about that specifically, and then we were going to turn it over to David [Price]. So all that stuff worked. They just got two runs, which was the non-popular thing that they did."
Where Maddon may have slipped up was by not walking Victorino or especially Feliz, in order to set up the double play. Bradford is an extreme ground-ball pitcher, and neither Feliz nor Ruiz runs well.
"I did think about that, absolutely," Maddon said. "I thought [Bradford] could put the ball on the ground anywhere on anybody. And then who knows? Ruiz has had such a hot series. There's all these different things going on. And Chad can put the ball on the ground at somebody. And Feliz was 2-for-2 against him on my sheet prior to that at-bat. He just beat him up the middle. I thought about all that stuff, chose to do that and it did not work out."
Heading to the eighth, Manuel had lefty J.C. Romero, who had escaped Madson's jam on Utley's spectacular play. He stayed with Romero for a heavily left-handed portion of the order, and Romero obliged. Romero allowed a single after a full count to Carl Crawford, then got B.J. Upton to hit into a double play.
Upton was first-pitch hacking after the lengthy at-bat, which might not have been the shrewdest move, but it would have been an unusual call for Maddon to put on a take sign for his righty-swinging No. 3 hitter against a lefty at that point in that game. Romero retired Carlos Pena, ending the eighth and leaving three outs for closer Brad Lidge.
For the eighth, Maddon called on Price to face the top of the Phillies' order, and though he walked a batter, he was scarcely threatened. It certainly led to some second-guessing as to why Price hadn't come in sooner, but Maddon had no regrets.
"That's just the way it turned out," Maddon said. "I had it mapped out mentally. And of course David being as young as he is, we have been putting him in a lot of difficult moments, and he has responded well. Just not knowing how that whole thing would turn, just trying to play it as well as we possibly can. Had different matchups presented. And it just didn't work out."
For the ninth, of course, Manuel had the easiest decision of the day. He called for the right-hander Lidge, who was perfect all season. Lidge got a popup from Evan Longoria and allowed a single to Dioner Navarro.
Maddon chose to use switch-hitting Ben Zobrist in place of Rocco Baldelli, who had homered in his previous at-bat, because of Lidge's platoon split. Righties batted .105 against Lidge this year, while lefties hit .273 with a .354 on-base percentage. And Zobrist almost made the call look prescient when he scorched a line drive to right field -- but Werth caught it.
The final call was for Eric Hinske to pinch-hit for Bartlett, and Hinske struck out to end the game. That capped a tremendously entertaining and intriguing game, for fans, players -- and the skippers.
"All the stuff that happened, really, we had planned out before the game," Maddon said. "They just got some very untimely hits."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.