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That did not work out as Jim Leyland hoped

Oct 6, 2013, 1:11 AM EDT

ALDS Tigers Athletics Baseball AP

Presented with a tough first-and-third with no outs situation in the bottom of the ninth Saturday in a scoreless Game 2 against the A’s, Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

1. Chose to forgo using his best reliever
2. Chose to walk the bases loaded
3. Chose not to use a five-man infield

Obviously, none of that worked out. With Rick Porcello on the mound, Stephen Vogt hit a line drive single past shortstop Jose Iglesias to end the game and even up the ALDS at one game apiece. Let’s look at those calls one a time.

1. Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit has a lengthy history of pitching in non-save situations and pitching more than one inning at a time. He’s one of two rocks in the TIgers pen, along with lefty Drew Smyly (who had already worked in the eighth tonight). Curiously, it didn’t appear that he even got up in the pen, which could suggest there was a physical issue at play. Benoit did get four outs on Friday, but since he needed just 17 pitches to do it, he would have been available tonight under normal circumstances. If there was no physical issue, it’s safe to say that Leyland was reserving him in the hopes of a save situation.

It was also a bit curious that Jose Veras was nowhere to be found in the ninth.

2. Right-hander Al Alburquerque was the reliever who gave up the singles to put runners on the corners. Ready in the bullpen to replace him were left-hander Jose Alvarez and Porcello, another right-hander. Leyland had four realistic options at that point with left-handed hitter Josh Reddick due up and fellow lefty Vogt on deck.

  • Allow Albuquerque to face Reddick with runners at first and third.
  • Bring in Alvarez to face Reddick or whomever might pinch-hit for him.
  • Walk Reddick, bring in Alvarez to face a pinch-hitter, almost surely Derek Norris
  • Walk Reddick, bring in Porcello to face Vogt

Letting Albuquerque face Reddick was almost surely Leyland’s best bet for a strikeout. Alburquerque had already fanned two batters tonight. He struck out 70 in 49 innings during the regular season. Reddick just fanned three times in Game 1 and 86 times in 385 at-bats for the season.

On the other hand, Porcello versus Vogt was the best bet to induce a grounder.

Really, it should have come down to how Leyland felt about how well Alburquerque was throwing. Albuquerque had already made 22 pitches, which is a typical outing for him. He might have had one more strikeout in him, but the fact that he had just allowed two hits certainly worked against his cause.

I thought they should have gone after Reddick, as poorly as Reddick has performed. Still, the walk wasn’t such a bad idea. The odds were against them either way.

3. What I don’t get: Porcello was brought in to get the grounder, so why not help him out with the fifth infielder? That Don Kelly, an experienced infielder, was already playing left field meant the Tigers wouldn’t have even needed to go to the bench to make the move. The Tigers infield has very limited range at the corners — which is what got them into the mess in the first place tonight — and Kelly’s presence could have made a difference.

Alas, in this case, it probably wouldn’t have. Vogt hits left-handed, so Kelly likely would have been stationed to the first base side of the diamond. Vogt’s liner ended up whizzing right past shortstop Jose Iglesias to his left. Iglesias probably wouldn’t have been in any better position to snare it with the extra man.

So, no, I’m not going to trash Leyland for all that went on tonight. I would like to hear why neither Benoit nor Veras was up in the pen, though.

  1. sabergid - Oct 6, 2013 at 1:36 AM

    Actually Benoit did warm up in the pen, but only long toss… I don’t think he ever toed the rubber. (I was 15 rows back from the bullpen)

  2. scoutsaysweitersisabust - Oct 6, 2013 at 1:52 AM

    It’s very simple. If Mr. Leyland had done any of the above mentioned options, he himself would have been the one to blame on ESPN and in the newspapers and local talk radio if the move backfired. By doing nothing, Mr. Leyland can point the finger at both his players and the other team for the outcome of the ballgame. NFL coaches do this all the time.

    • paperlions - Oct 6, 2013 at 12:02 PM

      Untrue. There is no valid criticism for losing a game with your best relief pitcher on the mound, whereas it is easy to validly criticize losing a game without your best guy even warming up. A GB in this situation is nice, but they probably needed back to back GBs have to have a good chance of getting out of the inning since the first one likely would result in only one out….what they needed was a K.

      It is true that in that situation they likely would have lost anyway, but Leyland did not maximize their likelihood of succeeding. Indeed, he did about everything he could to minimize it. These aren’t even second guesses, because this is not about outcome, but about the process that led to the decisions.

  3. moogro - Oct 6, 2013 at 3:17 AM

    Punish his team for the starter not pitching forever?

  4. racksie - Oct 6, 2013 at 5:39 AM

    What I like about these situations is would he have handled it differently if he was down a game in the series instead of up one?

  5. jrocknstuff - Oct 6, 2013 at 7:15 AM

    And if the A’s had lost we’d never hear the end of “why the hell wasn’t Crisp bunting in the bottom of the 8th?” So these 2nd guessing situations can go on all night.

    • moogro - Oct 6, 2013 at 10:58 AM

      That is a good question. But there is only a few important questions, they can’t go on all night.

    • paperlions - Oct 6, 2013 at 12:05 PM

      Yeah, but that is a very good question because Crisp is a very good bunter…so he could have tried for a bunt hit with the benefit that he at least moves the runner over.

  6. tiger7575 - Oct 6, 2013 at 7:55 AM

    How dare you question the decisions of the drunkard
    “Abner Doubleday”! We know that when then situation favors him AND he has only the best players, his team might win. If not, he quits. He’s proven it over and over.
    Look at his record, he is an overrated Manager with the spine of a snake.

  7. amaninwhite - Oct 6, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    I misread your post at first . Thought you initially said:

    “It was also a bit curious that Jose Valverde was nowhere to be found in the ninth.”

  8. NatsLady - Oct 6, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    Leyland was in a tough situation. But he brought it on himself with using Alburquerque for the ninth.

  9. mgflolox - Oct 6, 2013 at 2:08 PM

    Boy it sure is good to have all these “experts” around to tell us what the Leyland should have done AFTER THE FACT. Ever stop to consider that maybe he knows a little bit more about how the game was going? Maybe Benoit didn’t have a particularly good feel for how he was throwing. Maybe he liked what he saw from Alburquerque when he closed out the 8th. Looked to me like Cespedes and Smith were putting good swings on the ball all night, maybe they would have gotten hits off on anybody they faced. And it wasn’t exactly a cripple that Vogt hit into left center, it was low and tailing outside and he just beat it. Doesn’t matter how may levers the manager pulls during a game, it’s the PLAYERS that win or lose games.

  10. usm418 - Oct 6, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    Jimmy Smokes didn’t fail to hit the ball the last 17 innings so he gets a pass.

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