The Red Sox won. The Rays lost. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. If you think I Yadda, Yadda, Yadda'd over the best part, I didn't. At its core, Baseball is as simple as any other team sport; score more points, runs, or goals than your opponent and you will win. Yet, for this team it seems so complex.
Love him or hate him, Joe Maddon makes for some interesting discussions. In general, I agree with about 90% of the moves Maddon makes. Even the moves I don't agree with, I can usually understand the thought process behind the decision. However, on this night, I'm left scratching my head.
Detractors of Maddon will be quick to point out that he is too numbers oriented and quite often will stick to a stat sheet instead of his gut. Of course, we don't know that to be true. It could just be Joe making smart, reasoned decisions. That said, on this night Maddon did not go with the numbers - or so it seems - in a critical part of the game.
James Shields was doing a fine job through four innings. He had allowed no runs, two hits, and handed out two walks. His fastball velocity was excellent (max 95.5 MPH) and his spike curveball was extremely effective (68% strikes). After allowing two hits in the top of the fifth, Shields struck out Daniel Nava swinging on a silly change-up. He threw 25 change-ups total and got four whiffs (16%). With runners on second and third base, and two outs, Maddon called a conference on the mound. David Ortiz was due up with first base empty and Kevin Youkilis was waiting on deck.
Facing Ortiz or Youkilis in that situation is far from ideal. However, if you truly believe Maddon plays everything off of a computer, then you would've expected John Jaso to walk back to the plate and hold up four fingers. Why? Because coming into the game Ortiz had 33 career plate appearances against Shields. His slash line in those plate appearances was .393/.485/.857 including nine extra base-hits. He quickly made it 10 XBH with one stroke of the bat.
The other option was loading the bases for Kevin Youkilis. Arguably a top three hitter in the American League over the past few seasons, Youkilis has struggled against Shields in the past. Before this game, Youkilis had a career line of .107/.219/.143 against the Rays' righty in 32 plate appearances. The .362 OPS against Shields is the lowest for Youkilis against any pitcher he has faced with a minimum of 30 plate appearances. After the three-run blast by Ortiz, Shields promptly struck out Youk on three pitches.
In most cases, it is wise to ignore the player vs. pitcher match-ups. The sample sizes are usually too small, and each game is an independent event from another. On the other hand, these were some extreme splits, and the Rays also played in to the platoon favor of the opposition.
Maybe I am speaking out of turn here. Maybe Maddon did call for the walk of Ortiz, but was talked out of it by the ultra-competitive Shields. Maybe I'm putting too much on one decision when the offense didn't do anything to help in the first place. Maybe I'm just a frustrated fan. Nonetheless, whatever decision was made on that mound before that pitch wasn't executed.
I could go on about how leaving Shields near 100 pitches was another questionable move, but what would it matter? By the time the Rays started scoring runs, the game was out of reach. Again, what more can you say except...on to the next one.