"What an interesting, wonderful game to stay solvent with."
Those were Tampa manager Joe Maddon's words following the Rays walk-off victory over the Red Sox which extended their season. I'm no "genius" like Maddon, but I believe he meant it was a great game, an instant classic-- made even better by the fact that his team was on the winning end.
If the Rays go on to win this series, backup catcher Jose Lobaton's name will be right up there with Bucky Friggin' Dent as most unexpected villain in Red Sox history. Lobaton (only nine career home runs) hit a walk-off home run off the seemingly unhittable Red Sox closer, Koji Uehara, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to stave off elimination.
But that was only the end of the story. There were plenty of second-guessing decisions made by Red Sox manager John Farrell which led up to that point. My concerns about Farrell's decision making in his first post-season as a manager was one of the reasons I chose Tampa to win this series.
As the game was approaching the midway point, it appeared the wind had come out of Tampa's sails. The Red Sox had scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning to take a 3-0 lead. Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz-- he of the 12-1 regular season record and 1.74 ERA-- was cruising along. Yunel Escobar reached on an infield single to start the bottom of the fifth. Jose Molina flied out. David DeJesus doubled to right-center field which would have scored Escobar had it not been for a terrific job by Shane Victorino getting the ball back into the infield quickly.
After Ben Zobrist popped out to shortstop, the stage was set for Evan Longoria. With runners on second and third and two outs, Farrell had a decision to make. Longoria is far and away the most dangerous hitter in the Tampa's lineup. He represented the tying run. The Rays were desperate for "A Moment" to spark the moribund club. On deck was Wil Myers, who was hitless in eleven at-bats in the series. Myers' fielding gaffe in Game 1 of the series sparked the Red Sox to their 2-0 series lead. The stage looked too large for the 22-year-old rookie who would later take himself out of this critical game with leg cramps.
Farrell chose to pitch to Longoria. Did Farrell consider walking Longoria to face "My-errrrrs?" "No, not to bring the go-ahead run to the plate," Farrell said after the game. Not even if that tying run would have been the hitless, vomiting-in-his-mouth Myers? "No, no consideration on walking him," Farrell reiterated.
Longoria would take Buchholz out of the park. The game would be tied. The Rays would be reinvigorated.
There would be other decisions in the next four innings which would have people second-guessing, but none bigger than that one. Quintin Berry would pinch-run for slugger David Ortiz in the eighth inning, thus removing Papi's bat from the lineup. The Sox could have used Ortiz when his spot in the lineup came around in the ninth inning needing a run against closer Fernando Rodney.
There would be the decision to stick with lefty hitter Stephen Drew in the eight inning with runners on first and second and two outs against lefty pitcher Jake McGee. Right-handed hitting Xander Bogaerts remained planted on the bench.
There was the decision to go to rookie Brandon Workman with one out in the eighth inning. Wouldn't that have been a good spot to go with Uehara to finish off the eighth and the ninth inning to give the Red Sox a couple of chances to win?
The overall karma of the game had changed. Line drives by Red Sox hitters were no longer finding holes in the defense. Red Sox fielders were running into each other. Inexperienced first baseman Mike Napoli would make a couple of questionable defensive decisions which would prove costly. It all culminated with Uehara giving up a home run... to Jose Lobaton.
The only decision I had a problem with was pitching to Longoria there in the fifth inning. The only hitter in the Rays lineup that can hurt you with one swing of the bat is Longoria. In that spot, you can't allow him to put up a three-spot with one swing of the bat. The Rays were dead in the water, no pun intended.
Now we have a series. This, however, is where I question Maddon. Why is Jeremy Hellickson penciled in to pitch Game 4? Rookie Chris Archer was a far superior pitcher the entire season. I would think Hellickson would have a very short leash. Archer has to be considered the piggyback pitcher and it wouldn't surprise me to see him come in to pitch as early as the third or fourth inning.
Jake Peavy, the Red Sox Game 4 starter, was brought to Boston for games like this. Jonny Gomes said in a postgame interview on CSNNE that Peavy pitches every game like it was a Game 7. With the Rays having a full pitching arsenal of David Price, Matt Moore, and Alex Cobb available for a decisive last game of the series, Tuesday may be a Game 7 for the Red Sox.