That did not work out as Jim Leyland hoped

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Presented with a tough first-and-third with no outs situation in the bottom of the ninth Saturday in a scoreless Game 2 against the A’s, Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

1. Chose to forgo using his best reliever
2. Chose to walk the bases loaded
3. Chose not to use a five-man infield

Obviously, none of that worked out. With Rick Porcello on the mound, Stephen Vogt hit a line drive single past shortstop Jose Iglesias to end the game and even up the ALDS at one game apiece. Let’s look at those calls one a time.

1. Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit has a lengthy history of pitching in non-save situations and pitching more than one inning at a time. He’s one of two rocks in the TIgers pen, along with lefty Drew Smyly (who had already worked in the eighth tonight). Curiously, it didn’t appear that he even got up in the pen, which could suggest there was a physical issue at play. Benoit did get four outs on Friday, but since he needed just 17 pitches to do it, he would have been available tonight under normal circumstances. If there was no physical issue, it’s safe to say that Leyland was reserving him in the hopes of a save situation.

It was also a bit curious that Jose Veras was nowhere to be found in the ninth.

2. Right-hander Al Alburquerque was the reliever who gave up the singles to put runners on the corners. Ready in the bullpen to replace him were left-hander Jose Alvarez and Porcello, another right-hander. Leyland had four realistic options at that point with left-handed hitter Josh Reddick due up and fellow lefty Vogt on deck.

  • Allow Albuquerque to face Reddick with runners at first and third.
  • Bring in Alvarez to face Reddick or whomever might pinch-hit for him.
  • Walk Reddick, bring in Alvarez to face a pinch-hitter, almost surely Derek Norris
  • Walk Reddick, bring in Porcello to face Vogt

Letting Albuquerque face Reddick was almost surely Leyland’s best bet for a strikeout. Alburquerque had already fanned two batters tonight. He struck out 70 in 49 innings during the regular season. Reddick just fanned three times in Game 1 and 86 times in 385 at-bats for the season.

On the other hand, Porcello versus Vogt was the best bet to induce a grounder.

Really, it should have come down to how Leyland felt about how well Alburquerque was throwing. Albuquerque had already made 22 pitches, which is a typical outing for him. He might have had one more strikeout in him, but the fact that he had just allowed two hits certainly worked against his cause.

I thought they should have gone after Reddick, as poorly as Reddick has performed. Still, the walk wasn’t such a bad idea. The odds were against them either way.

3. What I don’t get: Porcello was brought in to get the grounder, so why not help him out with the fifth infielder? That Don Kelly, an experienced infielder, was already playing left field meant the Tigers wouldn’t have even needed to go to the bench to make the move. The Tigers infield has very limited range at the corners — which is what got them into the mess in the first place tonight — and Kelly’s presence could have made a difference.

Alas, in this case, it probably wouldn’t have. Vogt hits left-handed, so Kelly likely would have been stationed to the first base side of the diamond. Vogt’s liner ended up whizzing right past shortstop Jose Iglesias to his left. Iglesias probably wouldn’t have been in any better position to snare it with the extra man.

So, no, I’m not going to trash Leyland for all that went on tonight. I would like to hear why neither Benoit nor Veras was up in the pen, though.

Astros advance to the World Series with 4-0 finale against Yankees

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The Astros punched their ticket to the World Series on Saturday, shutting out the Yankees 4-0 to take their first Game 7 victory at home. Charlie Morton was nearly untouchable on the mound, holding the Yankees to two hits, a walk and five strikeouts en route to his first career postseason win.

Morton and Sabathia carried their duel through three solid innings. Morton struck out three batters and allowed just one baserunner. Sabathia worked in and out of jams in the second and third innings, supplying and stranding two runners in scoring position.

Evan Gattis was the first to strike. In the fourth inning, he punched a 2-2 slider from Sabathia into the left field wall, where it registered a projected 405 feet and broke a homer-less streak of 115 at-bats by designated hitters in the 2017 postseason. The home run signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankees’ starter. He induced a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez, then walked Brian McCann on six pitches and allowed Josh Reddick his first base hit of the playoffs. That was enough for Joe Girardi, who pulled Sabathia for righty Tommy Kahnle and an inning-ending double play to close out the fourth.

Even with Sabathia gone, there was still some hope that the middle of the order could bail the Yankees out. Greg Bird led off the fifth with a first pitch double and Aaron Hicks took a four-pitch walk. A wild pitch from Morton allowed Bird to reach third base, but Alex Bregman and Brian McCann weren’t about to let the Yankees spoil their starter’s shutout. Todd Frazier bounced a ball toward third base, where Bregman grabbed and fired it to home plate, catching Bird just as McCann put his glove down.

The bottom of the inning wasn’t any easier for Sabathia’s successors. Jose Altuve went oppo-taco on a 1-1 changeup from Kahnle, postmarking it 364 feet into the right field stands. Kahnle labored through the next four at-bats, handing out a pair of singles to Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel before sending Gattis down swinging. The next at-bat was even more troublesome. McCann roped a two-out, two-RBI double to the warning track in right field, clearing the bases and boosting the Astros’ to a cushy 4-0 lead.

The excitement fizzled a little over the next few innings. Brett Gardner muscled a leadoff single off of Lance McCullers, but was later caught at second on a force play to end the sixth. McCullers didn’t let go of the ball again. He was lights-out through the end of the game, scattering a walk and six strikeouts over four innings and clinching the pennant with a 1-2-3 performance in the ninth.

Whatever confidence the Astros had coming off of their three-game sweep in the Division Series was tested and tested again in their pennant run. They battled through three tough losses in Games 3 through 5, staved off elimination with a gem from Justin Verlander in Game 6, and finally emerged victorious tonight. Three days from now, when they enter Dodger Stadium for Game 1 of the World Series, they’ll have the chance to do it all again.