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The night John Farrell embraced chaos

Oct 27, 2013, 12:40 AM EDT

World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three Getty Images

ST. LOUIS — There’s a cliche about managers putting their players in the best position to succeed. A corollary to that is having the best players in the right position, at the right time. Do those things as often as possible and you’re more likely than not to win, right?

Well, sometimes. The Red Sox tested this rule to its absolute limits in Game 3 and, while they got away with it for a few brief minutes, they didn’t for long. John Farrell eschewed conventionality and embraced chaos. But chaos would not cooperate.

It started out defensibly enough, with Farrell trying to get the best matchups he could in the top of the seventh. With Stephen Drew struggling mightily at the plate, Farrell sent Will Middlebrooks in to pinch hit for Drew. That didn’t work — Middlebrooks popped out — but hey, it made some sense. Farrell decided to keep Middlebrooks in the game, sending him in to play third, moving Xander Bogaerts to short.

Which is no real biggie. You gotta try to generate offense if you can. It just didn’t work out. And it makes sense to leave Middlebrooks in. Your roster is only so big, it’s a tie game and you can’t just burn position players. You carry on.

Then in the bottom of the seventh Matt Carpenter hits a ball to short. It’s not the easiest play ever. Bogaerts took a less-than-perfect path to the ball and didn’t square himself to throw it to first. Carpenter beats a throw that David Ortiz couldn’t dig out of the dirt. Maybe even a good first baseman doesn’t dig that out. But I think Stephen Drew makes that play more quickly and cleanly than the relatively inexperienced Bogaerts. Regardless, a runner is on first base.

After Carlos Beltran is hit by a pitch to put another runner on, Matt Holliday comes to the plate. He doesn’t tattoo the ball. It hits the ground not too far in front of the plate as it shoots down toward third and just eludes Will Middlebrooks’ glove.  Does it elude Xander Bogaerts’ glove?  I don’t think it does. It was so close and Bogaerts has that much of a better step at third base. We’ll never know, though.The ball kicked around the left field corner, two runs scored and the Cards took a 4-2 lead. Farrell, while not making any blunders, had less than his best in two critical places and it cost him.

And at that point, Mike Matheny had it all set up: the right people in the right position at the right time. Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal set to throw the eighth and ninth. We saw this in Game 2. We saw this much of the end of the season. Two young studs throwing near triple digits. A Boston team that has often seemed helpless against power pitching this postseason. Good. Night. Irene.

But then baseball happened. And baseball, no matter how much we think we know about it — no matter how much authority, earned or otherwise, we assert with respect to it — occasionally says “ha.” It reminds us that almost all predictions are just guesses. Educated guesses at times, but still just guesses because anything can happen. Balls get through a first baseman’s legs in Game 6 of the World Series. Near-cripples hit home runs off Dennis Eckersley in his prime. Nothing so grand as that happened here, but what seemed highly improbable became reality: Martinez and Rosenthal blew it. The Red Sox dinked, plunked and doinked their way back into a 4-4 tie. Take that probabilities. Chaos will have its way.

At this point I feel like John Farrell started to appreciate the power of chaos. And maybe began to think that he could use it to his advantage. Because at this point he seemed to embrace chaos with both arms and to eschew the notion of matchups and the ideal deployment of resources altogether. How else can we explain Farrell allowing Brandon Workman to face Matt Holliday in the eighth with runners on base when his best reliever — Koji Uehara — was sitting in the bullpen?  But wait! It worked. Holliday flied out and the threat was over.  And maybe it emboldened Farrell even more. What else explains Farrell allowing Workman — an American League pitcher, mind you, — to bat in the top of the ninth inning of a tied World Series game while his best available hitter — Mike Napoli — sat on his bench?

Hell, Farrell wasn’t just eschewing the ideal. He was rejecting the whole idea of the ninth inning mattering at all. Why else would he punt his team’s half of it so decisively? Why else would he head into the bottom of the ninth, on the road, against a team which seems to have more crazy voodoo working in its favor than any team, without using all of his weapons? And continue to do so, not even calling on Uehara until there was a runner on base.

Whatever his reasons, baseball’s unpredictable chaos decided it had led him on enough. It went back to wreaking havoc as it will, this time in the form of the most improbable demolition derby of a game-ending World Series play in recent memory. In a fielder’s choice/nailed at home/interference/walkoff win.

Going with the best matchups doesn’t always work. Embracing chaos doesn’t always kill you. But there’s a reason why managers usually play the percentages. They respect the power of chaos and do what they can to keep it at bay. And I bet John Farrell does so more regularly as long as this World Series continues.

  1. Joe - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:52 AM

    The one thought that I had when Workman came to bat was, “if you’re going to give up on this inning, you better find a way to get to the next one.”

    • 18thstreet - Oct 27, 2013 at 9:45 AM

      I was feeling something similar. As in, Farrell was saying, “There’s no way we can win this game in nine innings. But if it goes 10, we’re in great shape.”

      And he might have gotten away with it. That’s what hard for me to swallow. If Craig doesn’t score (my preferred scenario: Salty doesn’t throw to third, Kozma whiffs to end the inning), the Sox had Victorino, Pedroia, and Ortiz for the 10th inning, with Quentin Berry available to pinch run), followed by Nava (who would have batted against a righty), and Xander. And in the bottom of the inning, you’ve got to like Koji’s chances against anyone.

      That’s absolutely, positively the best explanation I can think of for Farrell’s lousy decisions: he was trying to win the game in the 10th.

  2. bfunk1978 - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:54 AM

    My favorite part of the game was Brian Kenny clamoring for Rosenthal in the 6th and Uehara in the 7th – both valid clamors, mind you, and then when both guys come in to pitch, they both blow it. Baseball, man. I was with him on both of those points but both pitchers gave it up.

  3. sabatimus - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    If this is Farrell’s idea of embracing chaos, this series is over in the next two games.

  4. brewcrewfan54 - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    This probably wont be a very popular statement but I’ll ask it anyway. Should baseball have some kind of re-entry rule for games that go into extras? I wasn’t watching this game very closely but as a manager you have to manage your roster smart but when it comes to a game that goes extra you can never know when it may end. That means when a game is tied late while you obviously would love to win in regulation you still gotta manage with several extra innings in mind I think. This becomes hard when you’ve already subbed some players out. I don’t know that this is a good idea or not, I’m sitting in a bar by myself thinking, which isn’t usually a good thing. Obviously it ultimately wouldn’t have mattered because this game didn’t go extras but if a manager knew he had an option to bring a position player back in once it got into 10. Food for thought or I’m an idiot. You guys will let me know.

    • bfunk1978 - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:04 AM

      Would have been nice for the Dodgers to bring back Gonzalez after he was yanked,and who knows maybe it’s a Boston/LA series.

    • drewzducks - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:10 AM

      If Emperor Bud didn’t allow it in the All Star game a few years back then something tells me his not going to allow it in the WS, cuz you know, this time and every time, it counts !

      • brewcrewfan54 - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:16 AM

        While I agree with you rules can be changed if enough people would like them to be. Not to mention I don’t think Bud has all power when it comes to rules. There’s some kind of competition comitee or something that can change rules when deemed necessary. Or maybe there isn’t.

    • brewcrewfan54 - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:13 AM

      And thinking again obviously when a game is in extras pitching is usually the major concern so maybe have 2 or 3 extra pitchers on the roster who can only enter a game once it goes extras? Maybe only the playoffs? Obviously thos are not guys you’d want pitching a playoff game but… Whatver. Criticize, comment…..

      • albertmn - Oct 27, 2013 at 10:48 AM

        As to the specific point of pitchers in the playoffs, I don’t think it is a problem. Teams only use 3 or 4 starters and will shorten the pen a little, so they already often have a couple of guys that could do that. In the Cardinals case, that would be guys like Shelby Miller and Mujica.

    • anxovies - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:38 AM

      What you are speaking of is the reason MLB managers make the big bucks.

      • brewcrewfan54 - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:49 AM

        Is it? Or is it because that’s the way its always been done? Every other major american sport allows free substitution except for soccer I believe. And keep in mind I’m not thinking free substitution at all just maybe a player can re enter one time if a game goes extras.

  5. wheels579 - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:12 AM

    McCarver criticized him for hitting for Doubront. Now he gets criticized for not hitting for Workman. Nobody really cared that Carlos Martinez faced Ortiz and yielded a hit in game 2. When you win, nothing else matters. When you lose, you’re a big dummy. Isn’t that nice?

    • 18thstreet - Oct 27, 2013 at 9:53 AM

      I dislike McCarver, but I agreed with him on this. Doubront was pitching well, which is one reason it made sense to leave him in. But I think the reason Doubront should have batted is because there were two outs and no runners on. Sure, Gomes hitting gives the Sox a better chance at a run than does Doubront. But with no runners on and two outs, Gomes improves the odds from (making up numbers here) zero percent to less than 10 percent.

      There’s also a pretty legitimate concern that Buchholz can only give three innings in Game Four, so — ideally — you’d like to have as many relievers available for the next game. Getting another inning (or two) out of Doubront gives a MUCH better chance to win Game Four.

      I think Farrell really blew this game. And I’m not a guy who usually blames managers. Farrell didn’t blow the game single-handedly. But he made many bad decisions.

  6. cur68 - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:24 AM

    Can’t blame Farrell too much (and lord knows I’d love to): he got burned by circumstance. Maybe Boagarts fields it cleanly at 3rd? Maybe Drew digs out the throw at 1st? Maybe monkeys fly out of dirtyharry’s butt? All are equally likely scenarios. Anyhow, baseball happened. And it was great. I bet the ratings go up after this.

    • koufaxmitzvah - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:44 AM

      I’m not sure the ratings go up as most of the TVs in the New England area have probably been punched out.

      • 1historian - Oct 27, 2013 at 3:16 PM

        good one

        love your handle

        this ain’t over

    • 18thstreet - Oct 27, 2013 at 10:00 AM

      Wow! Cur68 isn’t blaming Farrell and I am. #crazypills

      • cur68 - Oct 27, 2013 at 10:24 AM

        Yeah, well….if you like:

        SUCK IT, FARRELL!!!!

        But, ultimately, playing “what if” with the defensive positioning? Could have easily worked out in the Sox favour last night. All Breslow had to do was hold the ball in Game 2 or Salty hold the ball in in Game 3. Then Farrell’s off the hook (for that moment). Heck, if Gomes had taken the time to glance at Jon Jay (half way down the line to 3rd on a weak fly? WTF?) he’d have had the third out right there, and your boys are up 2-1 right now. Instead? Can’t really see Farrell doing anything much different at this point…with the exception for persisting in giving Jonny Gomes a job. He’s gotta stop doing that.

      • nbjays - Oct 27, 2013 at 10:29 AM

        He’s also gotta stop giving Drew a job… he’s so far below the Mendoza line, he can’t even see the damn thing.

  7. eshine76 - Oct 27, 2013 at 2:35 AM

    I know Koji is a beast, but I don’t understand why Farrell didn’t intentionally walk Jay in the first place. It’s a lot easier to turn a 4-6-3 DP than a 4-2-5 that requires tagging both runners.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 27, 2013 at 10:05 AM

      Disagree. Kozma is such a lousy hitter that the most likely outcome of Koji versus Kozma is a strikeout, not a 4-6-3. If Kozma does put the ball in play, you’re relying on either Middlebrooks-Pedroia-Ortiz to turn a 5-4-3, Xander-Pedroia-Ortiz to turn a 6-4-3, or Pedroia-Xander-Ortiz to turn a 4-6-3. Not ideal.

      Besides, like I said, the likely outcome of Koji against Kozma is a strikeout.

  8. zigsmart - Oct 27, 2013 at 2:57 AM

    Having Workman bat in the 9th was the dumbest f’ing decision I have ever seen in my life.

  9. Jack Marshall - Oct 27, 2013 at 4:45 AM

    1. Workman is a good pitcher. Stop making him sound like a stiff.
    2. What good is a bench coach if he can’t remind the manager that it’s time for a double-switch?
    3. The post is the biggest festival of hindsight bias I have ever read in my life. Sure, Drew makes the play Bogaerts didn’t, Bogaerts makes the play Middlebrooks didn’t, Napoli will hit a two out homer, Saltalamacchia shouldn’t have made the throw and the Cards don’t score if Uehara starts the inning. Never mind that Uehara gave up the crucial hit. Utter crap.
    4. The dirty little secret is that Farrell is a mediocre, at best, in-game manager.

    • matt14gg - Oct 27, 2013 at 8:07 AM

      You’re right about the hindsight, but having Workman bat is not about hindsight. That was a screw-up of epic proportions and I’m guessing most people believed so, as it was happening, not after. I honestly felt at that point that Farrell was in over his head and didn’t know what he was doing. That just can’t happen.

      I always thought the worst managerial decision I ever saw was years ago when Don Baylor, then the manager of the Rockies, managed himself into knots in the playoffs and ended up, down to the final out, and having to have a pitcher (Lance Paynter) hit. I remember thinking at the time how baseball people always said how brilliant Baylor was and realizing that is just something baseball analysts do with a guy they like. Baylor was clearly no genius, and regardless of the very well spoken press conferences Farrell gives, he’s no genius either and last night he was in over his head.

      The only issue I have is this is a case where every good manager has a bench coach who is supposed to shake the manager and say, “What the hell are you doing?” and wake him up. Is there no one on the Red Sox coaching staff who saw how badly Farrell was screwing up said, “Hey skip, how about we have Mike Napoli hit for the pitcher”? Torey Lovullo is there for that reason, so either no one said anything, or someone said something and Farrell ignored it. Either way it’s a big problem.

      This game was not lost by a controversial (yet correct) umpire’s decision (and yes, I’m a Red Sox fan). It was lost by a series of poor managerial decisions. I’ve always believed that when you make bad decisions in sports you will pay for them every time, and that is what happened to the Red Sox last night.

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