The situation: Runner on first base, no outs, bottom of the ninth inning. Cardinals trail by one. Francisco Cordero pitching and Jon Jay at the plate.
The decision: TLR lets Jay swing away, rather than bunting.
The outcome: Jay hits into a double play, pinch-hitter Ryan Ludwick flies out and the game is over.
The analysis: For TLR, this came down to a strategic decision, not a tactical one. The question was, whether he should play for one run and the tie, or two runs and the win. He elected to play for the win.
His reasoning was that with P.J. Walters having only pitched four innings and the bullpen having been stretched thin, he was much better off trying to end the game right away.
Using Ryan Franklin for the eighth and ninth, despite a deficit, was a pretty good indicator that TLR had no interest in using Kyle McClellan or Jason Motte unless he could absolutely avoid it, so it’s clear that he was managing by this philosophy throughout the late innings.
So the question is whether you buy the philosophy. Because if you agree strategically, then the tactics are sound. If you don’t buy the underlying principle, then you’re going to argue vociferously for a bunt — or at the very least, some kind of motion to avoid the double play.
The comment: “Well, we don’t have the deepest situation, do we? I mean we don’t really have any other pitchers we wanted to use, so we are going to try and win the game. Left-handers are hitting .300 against [Cordero]. Jay was having a heck of a day and he is tough to double. I mean, I don’t even think it’s a tough call.
“I think playing for a tie would be a really dumb idea with what we’ve got. I mean, who’s going to pitch the tenth? If we had tied it in some way, then we would have got Kyle [McClellan] out there or somebody. But I think you have to play for the win.”
My verdict: As you likely know by know, my general strategic bent is in the Earl Weaver vein: pitching, defense and the three-run homer. I hate giving away outs, I hate playing for one run unless the situation absolutely demands it, and I hate giving a pitcher his first out. We’ve been over this ground, probably ad nauseam for some of you.
But at the time, I thought the bunt was really a slam-dunk. You play for the tie at home, and with Ludwick available to pinch-hit, you would seem to have a good chance of getting that runner home.
Still, the more I think of it, the more I can at least see the strategy. They’re pretty clearly worried about keeping McClellan from being overused. It’s come up a few times this year. And Motte has pitched a great deal lately, so being careful with him one time is not a bad idea either.
They really got into the tight position by getting a total of one inning out of Dennys Reyes and Blake Hawksworth. If Reyes could have gotten through the seventh, and Hawksworth the eighth and maybe more, then it’s less of an issue. But if he was really, truly committed to saving those two relievers — an understandable goal — then it’s a defensible decision.