I'm ready to move on from the World Series. Heck, I need to move on from the World Series. There's something I wanted to talk about in brief before we elegize and bury this thing once and for all, though, and it's something that tends to evoke a very heated response in one direction or another -- Ron Washington's game management.
In the immediate aftermath of Game 5 and the "Phonegate" incident, Tony La Russa was made out to look like either a liar, a fool, or both by a relentless baseball media -- and Washington, by virtue of being on the winning end and not having committed such an extreme folly, ended up being perceived as more competent than his Cardinals counterpart. There was lots of high-spirited mockery from the Rangers' fan base of the confusion that led St. Louis to send a lefty reliever up against a lefty killer in Mike Napoli, and lots of quips about Washington being on the verge of winning the managerial "chess match" over the can-do-no-wrong genius La Russa.
And then Game 6 happened. And Game 7 happened.
In Game 6, there was the decision to permit Colby Lewis to hit with the bases loaded in the fifth inning (a decision that was pilloried by the sabermetric community, though La Russa did do something similar with Chris Carpenter in Game 7). There was the decision to summon Alexi Ogando (and his waning effectiveness) into a high-leverage, bases-loaded sixth-inning situation, resulting in a game-tying walk. There was the decision to pull Neftali Feliz after his choppy ninth inning in favor of Darren Oliver, and then the truly ill-fated decision to roll with Mark Lowe in the bottom of the 11th inning rather than sticking with Scott Feldman, who had thrown just 16 pitches during the previous inning but found himself lifted for pinch hitter Esteban German ... with a runner only on first base, and two outs.
And during the climactic fifth inning of Game 7, there were two particularly soul-crushing moments: (a) Elvis Andrus, boasting a sturdy .345 on-base percentage over his last two seasons, dropping a no-out sacrifice bunt to advance Ian Kinsler along to second base with Texas already mired in a 3-2 hole (and on a 2-1 hitter's count, no less), and (b) Washington trying to outmaneuver La Russa by having Scott Feldman issue an intentional walk to David Freese in the bottom of the fifth inning, thereby loading the bases with two outs and bringing Yadier Molina to the plate. With all margin for error eliminated, Feldman walked in a run, and then a quickly summoned C.J. Wilson hit-by-pitched in another run to make it a 5-2 game, and that was pretty much the end of the line.
During the entire 2011 regular season, Rangers pitchers issued just 21 intentional walks in 162 games. During the 2011 World Series, Rangers pitchers issued nine intentional walks in seven games, and eight intentional walks in Games 3-7. Two of those walks came all the way around to score important runs in Games 3 and 7.
Now, clearly, there's a veritable mountain of second-guessing material here, and I don't know that every one of these moves was the wrong tactical play. For example, it did eventually come out that Feliz was badly rattled in the immediate wake of his blown save in the ninth inning of Game 6, which makes the Feliz-to-Oliver handoff sound a lot more justifiable in retrospect. And, obviously, nothing that Washington ordered from the dugout during Games 1-6 was devastating enough to the Rangers' chances to preclude a Series win. If Freese swings a fraction of a second later or puts another degree or two of arc on that ninth-inning drive to right field in Game 6, the Rangers win it all.
But if there's a total pie of responsibility for that Series loss, Washington -- and presumably, though I suppose not certainly, bullpen lord Mike Maddux -- earned themselves at least a small sliver of that pie. They didn't lose the Series, but there's a strong argument to be made that their tactical machinations hurt the Rangers more than they helped during the course of those seven games ... and, well, as a legitimate fan of both, and as an eager acknowledger of their value to the organization, that sucks. I had really, really hoped that this wouldn't end up being the case, but here we are.
I think Ron Washington is a very good manager, all things considered. I'm glad that he survived multiple close encounters with the chopping block, and for everything that may have gone awry during the World Series, I'm glad that he's the guy helming this team. After having watched him ply his craft from the dugout over a period spanning five full seasons and more than 800 games, I don't have any problem saying that he's right around par for the major league course as a regular-season tactician (let's not pretend that the average major league manager is some error-free paragon of baseball genius, after all), and he does, by all accounts, excel in the other key aspects of effective management -- communication, leadership, motivation, and so forth.
But for everything that I love about Ron Washington, there's something about his managerial style during that World Series that's still bugging me days after the fact, and that's probably going to continue bugging me up until (and during) the Rangers' next trip to October. Let next October be the month that we end up being bugged no longer.