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.