Most likely, nothing Royals manager Ned Yost did or didn’t do was going to change the outcome of Sunday night’s Game 5. Madison Bumgarner was dominant, and no combination of Royals hitters figured to beat him. Still, in the midst of the game, Yost made his most inexplicable move in weeks: he committed to 25th man Jayson Nix.
It happened in the seventh inning with the Giants up 2-0 and coming to the plate. James Shields was done for the night after six innings, and Kelvin Herrera was taking over. Had the game been taking place in an American League park, nothing here would have raised an eyebrow.
Game 5, though, was played in San Francisco. And the Royals had the pitcher’s spot due up second in the top of the eighth.
Still, this should have been irrelevant. The obvious strategy was to let Herrera, the Royals’ busiest reliever all postseason, pitch the seventh and get lifted for a pinch-hitter. Instead, Yost opted to make the double-switch. He planned for Herrera to pitch two innings, even though Wade Davis and Greg Holland both have undertaken lesser workloads this month and were very much available, having not pitched Saturday.
That was actually the lesser problem with the move, though. The bigger one is that he locked Nix, who was replacing Omar Infante, into batting second the following inning and finishing the game. Nix wasn’t even on the roster for the ALDS or ALCS. He replaced Christian Colon for the World Series because the Royals preferred his defense. Nix had two at-bats all month. He had a total of seven at-bats in September. He’s a poor hitter in the best of times, and these were not the best of times. For the season, he batted .120/.169/.157 in 83 at-bats.
Had Yost simply waited to pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot, he would have had his pick of Billy Butler, Norichika Aoki or Josh Willingham to hit (Butler actually hit for Jarrod Dyson to lead off the inning. The other two didn’t get at-bats in the game). Instead, he forced himself to go with Nix, since there weren’t any other infielders on the roster to take over.
Nix ended up flying out in his at-bat in the eighth. Herrera pitched a scoreless seventh, then gave up back-to-back singles to start the bottom of the eighth and was pulled. Davis entered and had a rare off night, allowing both inherited runners to score and giving up a run of his own before escaping the frame. The Royals went on to lose 5-0.
So, no, Yost didn’t cost the Royals the game. He hasn’t cost the Royals a game in a long time now, and it’s been pretty difficult to find ways to make fun of him of late. This was an awful choice, though.