12:05 AM Eastern
Yes, it has taken me this long to calm down enough to write a blog post about this afternoon’s game. Actually, that’s not true, I had to pick the kids up from school, eat dinner, trade for Rafael Furcal, go to a meeting, those sorts of things – but those are all beside the point.
A couple of days ago, some of you true believers were asking if I would be reluctant to be critical of Cito Gaston, even if I felt it was warranted, given my apology for going a little too far on the speculation front a few days back.
One would think that I and other Blue Jays observers would have gotten used to Gaston’s managerial style by now. There ought to be things that one knows are coming, and therefore when those things do happen, one could imagine that they wouldn’t be accompanied with heavy sighs, V-8 level smacks to the forehead and/or the tearing out of one’s own hair. One would be incorrect in that assessment.
You’ll often hear references to “the book.” There’s not really a book, but it’s the thing by which you’re supposed to run the show. Things to do, and things to not do, in order to give your team its best possible chance to win a game. Cito usually ignores the book. This afternoon, he gave it to Big Jim and Billy Sol and made sure it blowed up real good.
The Blue Jays entered the 8th inning down by a run, with the spectre of Joakim Soria on the horizon. Soria has been one of the game’s best closers over the past couple of years and this season has been no different. The 8th inning was going to be the Jays’ best chance to tie the game.
Due up? Jose Molina and John McDonald. The book says that since these are the two worst hitters on the Blue Jays’ roster (pitchers excluded), neither of them should be allowed to come to bat in this situation. It was a light bench, I’ll give you that, with Edwin Encarnacion unavailable, so the only replacements were Mike McCoy, Randy Ruiz and John Buck.
In McCoy you have a guy whose specialities are getting on base and running, in Ruiz a guy who hits home runs and in Buck a guy who is a catcher. The book says that you lead off the inning with McCoy, and then your options open up depending on what happens. Cito sent Molina out to hit.
Stunningly, Molina smacked a hard ground single between short and third. Then (given the new space/time continuum) – the right move from the Jays’ skipper: McCoy comes in to pinch-run.
Now that there’s a runner on first, there are two options. The preferable one is to send Ruiz up to the plate and let him do his thing while having McCoy try to steal second against the weak-armed Jason Kendall. The other option, still acceptable in many circles outside this one, is to let McDonald go to bat and sacrifice the runner to second.
Cito chose option 2, as expected, even though this meant that he would wind up keeping McDonald in the game beyond that 8th inning, when he could have simply sent McCoy, the better hitter and not significantly weaker defender, out to play second base for the remainder of what became a tie game.
McDonald got the job done, as is to be expected of him, and McCoy found himself bunted to second with two out. With Fred Lewis due up, the Royals brought lefty John Parrish in from the bullpen, giving Cito the massive upper hand.
Once a reliever enters a game, he must face one batter before being pulled. This meant that Gaston had three options: 1 – Send Randy Ruiz up to try to put the Jays ahead with one swing. 2 – Send John Buck to the plate to try to put the Jays ahead with one swing, since he was going to have to come in the game to catch anyway. 58 – Do nothing.
Cito chose the latter, sending Fred Lewis and his career .242/.329/.328 line against lefties (.492 OPS in ’09!) to the plate. Short bench, you say. But that doesn’t address letting Lewis hit over Buck. What if he was going to need Ruiz later? Well, as we saw, that question was moot, but even if he was saving Ruiz for something, what could it possibly have been? It’s not as though you’d pinch-hit for any of the next five hitters in the line-up. Maybe Overbay against a lefty, but Overbay wasn’t going to come up against anybody but Soria if the Jays hadn’t at least tied the game.
But just like the move to let Molina hit, the move to let Lewis hit worked! Lewis hit a rocket on which Royals’ second baseman Alberto Callaspo barely got a glove, and the ball squirted into right field as McCoy crossed the plate with the tying run. Lewis even went on to steal second, but neither Alex Gonzalez nor Adam Lind could drive him in to give the Jays the lead.
Things went swimmingly from that point on, until Scott Downs made a mistake in the 10th that Alex Gordon took out of the yard to centre. With a one run lead going to the bottom of the 10th, the Royals went to Soria and the Jays had the bottom of the line-up coming up.
Travis Snider struck out looking and Buck, in defensively in the 9th because Molina had been pinch-run for, flied out to right with Johnny Mac on deck. It was stunning enough that McDonald was actually on deck, and that Ruiz hadn’t started swinging a bat in anticipation of a big opportunity.
Standing at field level, I watched McDonald and he spent a few extra seconds in the on-deck circle after Buck returned to the dugout anticipating, I’m sure, Ruiz’s shadow to engulf him as the big pinch-hitter emerged from the dugout. Nothing. McDonald took a step towards the plate, then turned around to look back into the dugout, expecting to be called back. Nope. He then went to the plate and meekly grounded to short fighting off an 0-2 pitch to end the game.
If you look hard enough, you can see the reason that Gaston does a lot of the things that he does, but that single move defied all logic. Unless Ruiz was otherwise engaged, biologically or some such, there’s no earthly reason not to use him there. I said it on The JaysTalk, and I firmly believe it to be true: Not one other manager in the majors sends John McDonald up to bat in that situation when he has Randy Ruiz on the bench. Not one.
Of course there’s no guarantee that Ruiz does something positive, but there’s a FAR greater chance that he does. A home run to tie the game, a hit or a walk just to keep things going. Sure, if he gets on you can’t pinch-run for him, and he’s not especially fast, BUT YOU HAVEN’T LOST THE GAME YET!
Yes, you have to worry about your defense, and had the game gone to an 11th inning, it would have been awfully ugly – BUT YOU’D BE PLAYING IN THE 11TH INNING WITHOUT HAVING LOST THE GAME YET!
Sorry, I get frustrated. That honestly might have been the single worst managerial move I have ever seen, and that’s coming from someone who really likes John McDonald. Everything that could possibly point to anything in the history of everything was pointing towards using Ruiz there. Nothing – not a thing, find me a thing, I defy you! – suggesting that sending McDonald up to hit was the best course of action. You can’t even point out something ridiculous like McDonald was 1-for-2 in his career against Soria, as this was the first time they’d ever faced each other.
I don’t mean this to be a scathing rebuke of McDonald as a hitter. He’s not here for his bat, and he knows it. We all know it. McDonald is a beautiful player to watch, and there are lots of things he can do to help a major-league team win. Not a single one of them involves being at the plate with the bases empty when your team is down by a run and down to its last out.
That move alone should be grounds for being called on the carpet by the bosses and being forced to explain your thinking and promise never to do such a thing again, assuming you even get to keep your job. That’s the level of ridiculosity we saw at the ol’ ballyard today.
The JaysTalk was even a chore, because there remain those who believe that Gaston walks on water and can do no wrong, and that allowing McDonald to hit in the 10th was a show of faith in his player. I think it was the first time in the history of the program that I have hung up on a caller because my own incredulity overwhelmed me. Here’s the show, for your listening pleasure:
After the game, the Jays placed Encarnacion (arm) and Brian Tallet (forearm) on the disabled list and recalled Brett Cecil from Las Vegas. Cecil will start Friday night’s opener against the Rays. Aaron Hill will be activated before that game to take Encarnacion’s spot on the roster.
By the way, the Jays managed all of four hits in this game. It was the 6th time in the last eight games that they have had three hits or fewer over the first six innings. That remains ugly with a capital “UG”.
Rational, reasonable comments are always welcome!