The Kansas City Royals beat the Detroit Tigers, 1-0, yesterday in a crisp, well-pitched game to keep the Royals' fleeting wildcard hopes alive. They preserved their narrow margin of victory by throwing Prince Fielder out at home plate for the final out of the game. I hate to be one of those second-guessing, arm-chair managers, but what the heck was Fielder doing out there anyway?
Greg Holland came in the game to get the save. Holland has been one of the best relief pitchers in the league this year. But he walked Fielder to start the ninth. That is never a good thing. As Fielder lumbered to first, the first thought that comes to mind is to pinch run for Fielder, right?
After all, Fielder has the ignominious statistic of amassing a minus 43.9 base running runs in his career. In other words, he has lost some four wins during his career because of his base running. With Holland on the mound, even a lead-off walk does not lead to good odds that you are going to win the game, but still.
The perfect play would have been to pinch run Hernan Perez. This is the beauty of September rosters when you have all these other players to choose from. It is not like you are going to run out of players. Perez is a speed guy. He has stolen 78 bases in this past three seasons in the minors. He would be the perfect guy to pinch run for your club at this point.
But he did not pinch run. Fielder was left out there. Say Perez is out there. You could go for a stolen base. You can hit and run or try a bunt to small-ball a tie. With Fielder, you have no such options.
It did not seem like it was going to matter as Holland got Victor Martinez to pop out and then struck out Andy Dirks. With two outs, it seemed Holland was in control. So no harm leaving Fielder out there. Except Holland was not in control.
Omar Infante doubled to left. The ball rolled all the way to the wall. It took Alex Gordon a while to dig the ball out from against the wall. Fielder gave it his all and chugged around the bases as fast as he could. But it was not fast enough. The Royals handled the relay perfectly and by the time Fielder slid like he hit his wallet on the dirt, he was dead at home and the game was over.
No offense here, but a perfect relay would not have helped if Hernan Perez was running. He would have already been in the dugout. And then not only would the game be tied, but as the home team, the chances of winning the game would have been that much greater.
So why wouldn't Tigers' manager, Jim Leyland, pinch run for Prince Fielder? Fielder likes to play. It is important for Fielder to play every day. He has not missed a game in two years. There have been only a handful of games this season where he did not play a complete game. All of those were in lopsided games. Prince Fielder's contract is over $200 million. You don't mess with that and take him out of a close game.
Poppycock. The manager makes those calls and they all have to be at whatever will give you the best chance to win the game. Leyland did not do that. Perhaps to the Tigers' manager, it does not matter. The Tigers can pretty much sleepwalk into the playoffs. Their five game lead in the division with fifteen games to go would be pretty hard to dissolve. Even so, your job as a manager is to win games, not let one of your high-priced superstars lumber around the bases and not know how to slide.
There are repercussions of Leyland's lack of managing here. The Royals are a wildcard contender. Even if your division lead seems a lock, you have to play each other contender to win the game or the integrity of the game is going to be questioned. Think of the Yankees' decisions against the Rays back in 2011. They were blasted.
Leyland's non-play here will not get the scrutiny of the last game of the season because there are two weeks left. But if the Royals get in because Leyland sat on his hands here, then whichever team gets bumped has a right to squawk.
Again, I hate to be a second-guesser and I hate to act like I am smarter than any Major League manager, but come on now. That was a no-brainer. With the Tigers needing a run to keep from losing the game, the correct play was to run for Fielder. Leyland did not do it. And it cost his team a win.