The moment called for an aggressive decision, and surprisingly enough, Royals manager Ned Yost was ready for it. He pulled ace James Shields after the first two men reached in the sixth inning Tuesday against the A’s. The Royals had a 3-2 lead at the time, and Shields had just thrown his 88th pitch. In the regular season, Shields never once came out prior to throwing his 95th pitch. In the regular season, there’s no doubt Shields would have gotten a chance to extricate himself from the jam.
This wasn’t the regular season.
The Royals’ ideal tonight should have been Shields for six, Kelvin Herrera in the seventh, Wade Davis in the eighth and Greg Holland in the ninth. But what if Shields couldn’t get through six? That’s where things got weird. Yost got starter Yordano Ventura up in the pen during the bottom of the fifth, strictly with the idea that he’d be the choice if Shields got into trouble. No one else was warming up alongside him. Yost could have had Herrera up early. He could have readied Jason Frasor, his team’s fourth righty. He could have gotten up one of his lefties, either starter Danny Duffy or rookie Brandon Finnegan.
But Ventura was the choice. Coming in with two men on, none out and back-to-back lefties due up, he got behind 2-0 on Brandon Moss and then gave up a homer to dead-center, Moss’s second blast of the game. He went on to give up another hit and then got one out before being replaced by Herrera. In all, the A’s scored five runs in the inning, taking a 7-3 lead.
In retrospect, it’s obvious that Yost made the wrong call. Because it didn’t work out. At the time, I liked the move to take out Shields, though Herrera seemed like the preferable option. If Yost really thought getting Ventura an inning was the right strategy tonight, it would have made more sense to have him start an inning clean. But Yost obviously didn’t see it that way. He had set it up so that Ventura would only pitch if Shields got into trouble. And he left himself without any other alternatives to replace Shields, even though there was no reason to save the pen.
Complicating things was that Ventura just started on Sunday, throwing 73 pitches against the White Sox. This was his bullpen day, yes, but he’s never before pitched in a game on his bullpen day.
The decision to pitch Ventura looked even worse half an hour later, when Yost sent Herrera back in the game to start the seventh even though Herrera had already thrown 18 pitches in the sixth. If Herrera, the owner of a 1.41 regular-season ERA, was still the best choice to start the seventh in that situation, why on earth wasn’t he Plan A in the sixth?
Alas, the postgame questions about Yost’s choices were sure to be merely awkward, rather than painful, after the Royals prevailed in 12 innings. Had the Royals lost, Yost might never have heard the end of it. Now it’s simply a footnote.