BY TED SILLANPAA
The Tigers made two strategic decisions that, while not completely unreasonable, didn’t make much sense. Those decisions sent the World Series back to Detroit with the Giants leading 2-0.
First, it’s a cardinal sin at every level of baseball to run into the first out of an inning at third base or at home plate. Watching the replay a dozen times doesn’t help explain why Detroit third base coach Gene Lamont waved Prince Fielder to the plate in the second inning when Delmon Young singled down the left field line off of Madison Bumgarner.
The Tigers would have had a struggling young starting pitcher on the ropes early with runners on second and third and no outs. Lamont inexplicably waved Fielder around. Lamont sent Fielder to the plate even though the big first baseman was a full 2 steps from third base at the moment that Gregor Blanco picked the ball up left field.
Lamont didn’t wave Fielder in because he misread where the carom off the wall sent the ball. He didn’t send Fielder because Blanco overthrew his first cut-off man. He must’ve sent him because the Tigers don’t respect Blanco’s throwing arm or the Giants ability to make basic defensive play. In that situation, there was just no logic to even risk Fielder being thrown out.
Imagine how the game changes if Bumgarner, who entered the game with an 11.54 postseason ERA, had two runners in scoring position to start the second inning? Could’ve been a totally different night for the left-hander who needed a confidence boost and got it when Marco Scutaro threw Fielder out — with the help of a nifty sweep tag by Buster Posey at the plate.
In fairness to Lamont, if Fielder had his lead foot in a better spot … Posey’s tag on his bent, right, trailing leg might’ve come after his left, lead foot touched the plate on the slide. Fielder’s lead foot hit the dirt before it reached home plate and gave Posey time to make the tag after Scutaro’s outstanding throw.
There are plenty of times where being aggressive and forcing a team to make a good defensive play is completely in order. It’s never called for when a team risks making the first out of an inning at home plate early in a scoreless game.
Manager Jim Leyland forgot more about baseball than I ever knew, but I wonder why he opted to play the infield double play-deep with the bases loaded and no outs in a scoreless game in the seventh inning. It’s an inside baseball dispute to which there is no answer beyond that Leyland knows what he’s doing. Still …
The Tigers are struggling at bat. The Giants bullpen has been magnificent. Cutting that run off at home plate seemed of paramount importance. Fox analyst Tim McCarver said the “odds are against you with the infield in” but that’s a made-up stat. Nobody knows what the odds of Brandon Crawford hitting a grounder right at an infielder pulled in was right there. He’s a lefty-swinging No. 8 hitter who was facing lefty Drew Smyly. Why would the odds be wildly against a ground ball that would’ve enabled the Tigers to throw Hunter Pence out at the plate?
Clearly, Leyland preferred getting two outs and minimizing the damage with six outs left. With a lefty pitcher facing a lefty who hits eighth in the order … it seemed like bringing the middle infield in (the Tigers were in at the corners already) made sense. Leyland’s explanation will be interesting.
It appeared, checking the TV countless times, that Crawford’s grounder was a made-to-order home-to-first double play ball. Results-oriented criticism isn’t in play here. The question about positioning the infielders came up before the first pitch to Crawford.
The Giants executed in both situations to make the Tigers pay for decisions they could’ve made differently. But, boy, did Detroit leave itself open to a long flight home thinking, “What if?”
Note: Decision-making aside, Detroit’s biggest problem is clearly the bullpen. Smyly pitched well in relief, but Leyland didn’t go with matchups of situational relievers to go righty vs. righty, etc. until after the Giants led. Smyly, lefty Phil Coke and journeyman righty Octavio Dotel might be the only relievers Leyland trusts. That doesn’t bode well over a long series.