Game 1 is over and done with.
Game 1 sucked. Game 2 needs to be better, lest the Rangers find themselves needing to win three games in Arlington to retake control of the series -- or two wins just to maintain some kind of pulse, which would then require Texas to fly back to St. Louis next Tuesday morning with the burden of needing to win Games 6 and 7 in Busch Stadium to capture the title.
I don't know that I'm quite ready to move on from Game 1 and onward to Game 2 quite yet, though, because there are a few different things that merit closer examination from that bummer of a game -- and while I actually have a few more thoughts about what went down last night that I want to throw down in a post later on this morning, I have quite a bit more to say about the perceived failings of Ron Washington last night:
● As is the norm during the World Series (and during the post-season, in general), the tactical machinations of each manager are being placed underneath an especially penetrating microscope -- and, because it's that legendary paragon of in-game strategy Tony La Russa going up against Ron Washington and his not-so-legendary gut, we find that there's even more meat on the narrative bone than usual. It should come as no great surprise, then, that with the Rangers dropping Game 1 by a single run, Washington's in-game decisions are being heavily scrutinized, and while there's been quite a bit of criticism heaped upon Washington already, I'm here to tell you that there actually was some logic to the apparent madness
As far as I can recall, there were four main points of fan/analyst/media contention with respect to the Rangers' tactical approach:
(a) The miserably failed first-inning hit-and-run attempt that resulted in Elvis Andrus waving at a tough breaking ball and Ian Kinsler being easily cut down at second base, thus deflating an emergent scoring opportunity;
(b) the fifth-inning intentional walk issued to Albert Pujols that filled an empty base and brought Matt Holliday to the plate with runners on first and second base and one out in a tied game;
(c) the successful sixth-inning sacrifice bunt attempt by Elvis Andrus that advanced Kinsler along to second base with one out, but failed to produce any runs; and
(d) the decisions to pinch-hit Craig Gentry (for David Murphy) and Esteban German (for Alexi Ogando) with runners on first and second base and one out in the top of the seventh inning. Both Gentry and German struck out with the tying run left stranded in scoring position, and the Rangers never mustered another semblance of a rally after that point.
On decisions (a) and (b), I wasn't a fan, and I'm still not a fan. I get that this team lives and dies by its trademark baserunning aggressiveness, but you would like to think that the Rangers would slow-play things just a little bit at the outset of the series and try to build a sustained rally rather than assume the rally-killing risk of a failed hit-and-run straight out of the gates. (For what it's worth, I'm not alone in my iffyness about this particular decision). And as far as the walk was concerned, I have to ask this of its supporters: How often do you think adding potential runs to the basepaths in front of an extremely dangerous hitter like Matt Holliday is going to work out for you? Yeah, Holliday proceeded to ground into an inning-ending double play ... but that doesn't mean the underlying logic was necessarily correct, or that it's going to work out next time.
Decision (c) is a bit more debatable in terms of both strategy and responsibility. I haven't made much secret of my general disdain for the sacrifice bunt as a piece of a manager's tactical toolbox (in large part because giving away outs for an improved chance at scoring one run tends to be a poor trade-off), but there is an argument to be made that playing for a single run -- and a one-run lead -- in a low-scoring game and weather-depressed offensive environment was a justified call. Furthermore, Rangers hitters have been known to drop sacrifice bunts of their own volition before, so even if you loathed that particular moment, I'm not sure it can be traced directely back to Washington's gut.
Decision (d) is the one that has triggered the most uproar and questioning of Washington's logic, with some denizens of the Twittersphere calling his managing of that situation downright "horrible," and others sarcasically proclaiming that Murphy and Ogando "could have struck out too!" Frankly, I'm having a difficult time seeing how anyone could call into question the Gentry-for-Murphy swap -- Marc Rzepczynski absolutely murders lefties, and though Murphy did pick up a big hit off a lefty in Game 6 of the ALCS, that single data point hardly begins to override the fact that Murphy is, historically, a very poor hitter against southpaws. Gentry offered both the more favorable plate matchup in a key run-scoring situation and a substantial rest-of-game defensive upgrade in the outfield. That, to me, was a no-brainer.
Which leaves us with that whole German vs. Rzepczynski mess, the progenitor of a brutal-looking three-pitch strikeout and a heated round of "Where was Yorvit Torrealba?" questioning. Here's the thing, though: Octavio Dotel (yeah, the guy who has struck out nearly a third of the right-handed batters he has faced during his career, and tends to obliterate the rest) was warmed and ready to go by the time Ogando's spot in the lineup came up, and the widely held assumption -- but just an assumption, of course -- seems to be that if Washington had turned to Torrealba, La Russa would have countered with Dotel. At that point, the question becomes a bit more complex: Do you prefer the German vs. Rzepczynski matchup, or the Torrealba vs. Dotel matchup?
German, for whatever it's worth, is a reasonably stout hitter who has been hindered throughout his pro career not so much by his bat as by his defense. He had the platoon matchup working in his favor, but hadn't hit against live pitching in a game since September 25th. Torrealba, meanwhile, had amassed 18 plate appearances since that same date, and hit a little bit during the ALCS, but presumably would have been walking into a buzzsaw of a righty-righty matchup. (And yes, I'm far more interested in that lousy matchup than Torrealba's career 1-for-27 showing in pinch-hitting situations).
On the basis of this evidence, are we still really so convinced that Torrealba was a substantially smarter play in that situation than German? Was there perhaps only a negligible difference in expected outcomes, instead (which is the direction I find myself leaning towards)? Or was Washington still a damn fool for bringing a guy off the bench that had seen no live pitching over the last 3.5 weeks, as opposed to the guy who had seen slightly more live pitching over the last 3.5 weeks?
I'm not going to tell you that I have all the answers here, or that Torrealba wasn't the smarter play. You know what? Maybe Torrealba should have been hitting there solely on the basis of that whole "has faced live pitching more recently" angle. Or maybe Washington should have countered Dotel's hypothetical entrance by summoning Mitch Moreland or Endy Chavez from his bench. Maybe he did screw things up. For whatever it's worth, though, I'm more inclined to think that there is very little difference in expected outcomes regardless of which way Washington goes there, and that the people hung up on this particular decision should reassess its actual impact within the entire game as a whole ... because I don't think it mattered nearly as much as some would have you think.
● While I'm still talking about the offense, let me just go ahead and purge this thought from my mind: regardless of whatever else might have ticked you off about Game 1, the fact of the matter is that two runs and eight baserunners in a World Series game simply isn't good enough. Neither is a big, fat 0-for-11 from the No. 2-4 hitters, which is something I'd like to discuss in slightly deeper detail later this morning. I don't know what it is about this offense's post-season knack for sapping me of my confidence whenever it goes to work in a road ballpark, but it's beginning to grind on my last nerve.
● The penultimate at-bat of Game 1 ended on a bizarre foul-ball-oh-wait-not-really moment that found Adrian Beltre slamming a very hittable Jason Motte fastball into the dirt (and, apparently, off the tip of his left cleat, which should have resulted in the play being ruled dead) and then out into fair territory, where third baseman David Descalso completed the 5-3 putout as Beltre continued to hobble around in the batter's box. His immediate reaction to the ball-to-toe contact was instantaneous and quite animated, but the umpiring crew didn't buy into the legitimacy of his reaction (nor were they swayed by Ron Washington's fruitless argument), and the game moved a little closer towards its seemingly destined outcome. Here's a screen grab of the contact in question:
You know, the Rangers' fates had already been just about sealed by this point, and home plate umpire Jerry Layne actually did call a very nice game on the whole ("missed call" percentage of 7.5 percent; the MLB average is 13.7 percent, per ESPN Stats & Info), so I don't want to make this particular moment of controversy out to be more important than it actually was, but I have to ask -- did all six umpires composing last night's crew believe that Beltre was faking that contact? That he was putting on a piece of Derek Jeter-esque dinner theater? Honestly, I don't think even the (overdue) implementation of expanded instant replay gets that overturned, because I don't think there's truly indisputable video evidence that the ball knicked his foot ... but it does strike me as a bit odd that Beltre didn't get any kind of benefit of the doubt there.