Welcome back, MLB Postseason. You can crack on baseball all you want for 162 games coming down to one play-in game, but you can’t crack the drama.
Baltimore and Toronto, tied after 9. Tied after 10. Tied after 10 and a half. And then untied and over, thanks to Edwin Encarnacion’s three run bomb that sent the Jays into the ALDS for a rematch with Texas.
Incredible moment. And yet, that’s not the big talking point today. Instead, it’s Buck Showalter’s decision to trot out Ubaldo Jimenez in the 11th inning while All-Star closer and Cy Young candidate Zach Britton sat in the bullpen.
Buck Showalter is a three-time AL Manager of the Year. He’s one of the smartest guys to ever draw up a lineup, so how does he end up going to a starter instead of his closer against the heart of the order in a must-win game? How does that happen? Britton had to be hurt, right? Nope.
After the game — Britton sounded how you’d expect him to sound. Like a guy who wanted the ball. Like a guy whose team just got sent packing after an 89-win regular season.
I want to repeat what I just said. Buck Showlater is one of the best managers in all of baseball. One of the best strategists ever. And no one handles a bullpen better than this guy; no one is smarter and no one is better prepared than Showalter. And nothing I saw last night changes my view of that. He’s still all those things. So I’m not here to jump this guy or bury this guy. And I’d remind you that just going to Zach Britton doesn’t guarantee they would have won.
Having said all that, if you’re in a single game, win or your done format, and I’m going down, I’m going down with my horse on the hill. I’m emptying the clip.
First and third, one out, winner advances, loser goes home, you have not only the best closer in the game, warm and ready, but you have a guy who has a major league record 80 percent ground ball rate, in a situation screaming for a ground ball; you have to go to him. You have to go to him!
I understand that being on the road can dictate strategy, yet another reason the home field in the postseason is so critical; and that you didn’t want to go to your hammer until you got the lead. And that Ubaldo had great numbers against Jose Bautista on deck. But to get to Bautista, you have to get through Encarnacion, and Ubaldo didn’t.
In other words, what good is saving Britton for a lead if you never get one? And even worse, it’s not like Buck hasn’t used him in this situation before: he did; July 31, against Toronto no less, where he went to Britton, in a tie game in the 9th, and got two innings out of him. And won the game. So it’s not some philosophical issue where Buck just doesn’t do it. He has. And he should have right there.
Again, I’m not here to bury Buck: I’m here to say, he is one of the best managers I’ve ever seen, who did not have a good night. He figured at some point, one of his mashers would run into one, he loved his bullpen, and was waiting for the lead before giving it to his stopper.
As he has so many times before, he rolled his dice. Except this time, he crapped out. He just crapped out.