The Boston Red Sox & the Toronto Blue Jays worked terrible strategies on each other in yesterday’s game, revealing much about how their seasons could go.
If you are a Red Sox fan and your stomach was able to withstand watching the slow, painful torture that was the first eight innings of Sunday’s game, you would have been able to witness two ball clubs with two managers who looked bewildered at what to do next. Boston’s John Farrell seemed helpless at how to strategize against Marco Estrada‘s potential no-hitter and the Blue Jays’ John Gibbons almost allowed the victory to slip away.
More often than not, by the time a baseball game starts, the managers have done all that they can do and barely impact the game very much. They’ve given their players the game plan against the opposing teams’ starters and then they sit back and watch the match unfold, waiting to make a phone call to the bullpen if required.
Instead, yesterday’s matchup allowed baseball fans into the minds of both managers, with everyone scratching their heads at what these men and their players were thinking in key situations.
From the first frame to the last, the strategies that the players executed did not seem to fit what was happening in the game. Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez was a prime example. The scouting report on Rodriguez is well documented, being that he throws a 93-mph fastball about 75% of the time. He throws his changeup just under 19%, and he utilizes his slider only about 6% for all of his pitch opportunities. That’s no secret around the majors; however, the location of his pitches yesterday were not fooling anyone.
Every single Jays batter Rodriguez faced got a consistent dose of fastballs away from them, outside of the strikezone. It seemed that the strategy was to pump the sluggers off of the plate and then try to slip a changeup or another fastball inside to mess with their timing. It didn’t work at all. After three straight fastballs off of the plate, Jose Bautista destroyed Rodriguez’s 87-mph changeup offering over left-center field, giving the Blue Jays an early leadoff run in the first inning.
The strategy continued to be exploited in the top of the third inning. Rodriguez must have forgot that Darwin Barney would be looking to only pull the ball, as Fenway Park is the perfect building for him to ever earn a home run, because Rodriguez gave him two pitches inside. The first was too much off of the plate but the second wasn’t, considering Barney tattooed it over the Green Monster in left field.
Then, with two outs, Rodriguez walks Josh Donaldson on five pitches. Even though everyone on both clubs knew that Donaldson had a problem with his thumb that was ailing him the day before, which was why the Blue Jays had him replaced at third base, Rodriguez didn’t challenge him at the plate. It was a miracle that Donaldson was even swinging a bat as the designated hitter in this game, yet neither Farrell nor Rodriguez seemed to want to challenge him.
Boy, did Edwin Encarnacion make them pay. After four straight pitches away, Rodriguez left another changeup over the dish for Edwin to serve up over the Monster to take a 4-0 lead.
One would have thought that Farrell would have pulled Rodriguez at that point, or at least talked to him. Instead, a coach’s visit to the mound came after Rodriguez then walked Russell Martin, a man hitting just .197, to walk on six pitches. Farrell left Rodriguez in the game to force Michael Saunders to fly out to mercifully end the inning, but the damage had already been done.
Was that the end of Rodriguez? Heck, no! Why would you think that? Of course Farrell let his starter keep going, which is why nobody should have thought that the Red Sox manager would do anything in the top of the fifth inning. Sure, Rodriguez walked the leadoff batter which prompted another coach’s visit, but they left him in the game and he did get Bautista and Donaldson to ground out to end the inning. No harm done, right?
That was until the top of the sixth inning, when Rodriguez fed Martin five straight fastballs in a row, the last one left over the plate fat for Toronto’s catcher to drill out of the park to take a 5-0 lead. The insult to injury followed, as Rodriguez was still left in the game after the home run and allowed to pitch to Saunders who pounded a pitch luckily right to Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field. Finally, Rodriguez was pulled from the game, but the move left many of Red Sox Nation pondering the purpose as to leaving the 23-year-old, second-year man to get slapped around by one of the hottest offenses in baseball for almost six full innings.
Was Farrell trying to shellshock a former prospect who was just coming back from injury this season?
To be fair, Farrell wasn’t the only manager being questioned. It makes sense that Gibbons left Estrada, arguably the Blue Jays’ best pitcher this season, to pitch the eighth inning, as the starter had a no-hitter going. However, after Chris Young was able to jump on possibly the only bad pitch that Estrada made all game for a home run, one would have thought that Estrada’s day was over.
It’s even understandable that Gibbons left Estrada in to finish out the eighth inning, giving his starter some respect after his mistake. It’s not even close to understandable, however, that Estrada was still out there to start the ninth inning. Roberto Osuna has looked automatic each time Toronto puts him out there to start the ninth inning, earning 13 saves coming into this game. Instead, Estrada was left to face Dustin Pedroia, who proceeded to double to left field. Estrada was then pulled. If Gibbons wanted to let Estrada complete the game after the home run, why was the double the last straw?
All that Gibbons’ decision seemed to do was throw off his best closer. Osuna came into the game under an unusual circumstance and, for the life of him, could not find the strikezone. He did get a pop out and a strikeout to get close to ending the game, but the Red Sox pounded two more doubles and a single to bring the game back within striking distance, 5-4 with runners on first and second.
Not to be outdone, Farrell’s control of the situation was then questioned, once again. He put Marco Hernandez into the game to replace catcher Christian Vazquez at the plate. Granted that Vazquez is hitting only .217 for the season and did not have a hit in the game, but Farrell was asking a great deal of Hernandez who has only had 17 at-bats in the majors and has only hit .235 himself. Now, it’s the bottom of the ninth with two outs and he’s facing one of the best MLB closers.
What’s going through the young man’s mind?
Well, what he should have been thinking was that Osuna, on this day, was having trouble hitting the broad side of a barn with his pitches, let alone the strikezone. Osuna threw Hernandez three straight balls, potentially loading the bases and putting the tying run at third base without a swing needed. Hernandez took the fourth pitch which was a called strike. No way should Hernandez want to swing at the next pitch. No way does Farrell want Hernandez to swing at the next pitch. The count is still in Boston’s favor. The only way that Hernandez should swing is if the next pitch is straight down the pipe, primed for him to blast it.
Instead, whether he was allowed to do it by Farrell or not, Hernandez swings at a pitch much too low to hit and fouls it off. Now, with two strikes, Osuna can put the next pitch anywhere and isn’t forced to have to throw anything over the plate. He decides to blow a 97-mph fastball too high for Hernandez to connect with, and the youngster strikes out swinging to end the game.
Ultimately, instead of this game being a gem for Estrada and the Blue Jays, the game was riddled with mistakes that puzzled many fans on both sides of the equation. Do Gibbons and Farrell trust their players too much or are they just both too slow to react to what’s happening in a ballgame? Does Rodriguez know that he’s too predictable with his locations or does anyone in the organization care?
The Blue Jays showed that the game is never out of reach if Gibbons doesn’t handle the reliever situation well enough and the Red Sox showed that they can be given a chance at victory on a silver platter only for them to squander it with poor strategy and execution. Both sets of fans were pulling their proverbial hair out during yesterday’s game. Time will tell if either or both will be bald by the end of the season.