The Washington Senators took a 6-4 lead into the seventh inning of Game 7 of the 1925 World Series. But they lost the game, and the series, when the Pittsburgh Pirates scored five runs in the next two innings off of 36 year-old Walter Johnson, the starting pitcher. Manager Bucky Harris refused to pull Johnson, arguably the greatest pitcher ever.
Ban Johnson, the president of the American League who lived to beat the Senior Circuit in the World Series, was (justifiably) furious. He ripped Harris for leaving Johnson in the game too long. The 28 year-old playing manager fired back, “we went down with our best.”
In last night’s American League wild card game, Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter went down with his worst. In the 11th inning of this win-or-go-home game, with one out and no Toronto runners on base, Showalter called on veteran Ubaldo Jiminez. Jiminez’s record? 8-12 with a 5.44 ERA.
The result? Two consecutive singles and a season ending (for the Orioles) three-run homer by Edwin Encarnacion.
Instead of turning to Jiminez, Showalter could have called on Zach Britton, probably the best reliever in baseball. Alternatively, he could have brought in Britton when Jiminez pitched himself into trouble.
This year, Britton saved all 47 games he had the opportunity to save. He was scored upon in only four of his 69 outings. His ERA was a microscopic 0.54.
Yet he never appeared in a game that went 11 innings and was tied from the fifth inning on. Because the Orioles never took a late inning lead, Showalter’s formulas did not instruct him to use his ace.
Almost since the beginning of Power Line 14 years ago, I’ve been railing against push-button managers who fail to use their best relief pitcher when the game is on the line because it violates this or that “rule.” Last night, for example, using Britton would have gone against the rule that instructs a manager not to use his “closer” in tie games, especially on the road.
But I assumed that managers threw away their silly “book” in elimination games — the way Bruce Bochy did when ace starter Madison Bumgarner pitched five innings of relief to save Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.
Not so last night in Toronto. Buck Showalter lived by the book and his team died by it.