MIKE SCIOSCIA is one of the smartest managers in baseball, but I’ll bet he’s feeling near suicidal today.
For the third time in five years, Scioscia’s Los Angeles Angels – the best team in baseball this season – were outfoxed by Terry Francona and the Boston Red Sox.
Want to know how big a part psychology plays in sport? Well, just look at the recent results of games between these two teams.
The Angels owned the Red Sox during the regular season, winning their last eight meetings.
But when it comes to the American League Divisional Series, the tables are well and truly turned.
Before their 5-4 win on Sunday, the Angeles had suffered 11 consecutive losses and two straight playoff sweeps.
Now it’s 12 out of 13 after Scioscia picked the worst possible time to play small ball.
While Scioscia will no doubt argue that’s what enabled his team to win 100 games this year, there’s a time and a place.
The ninth inning of Game Four of the ALDS at Fenway Park, with the scores tied at 2-2, was neither the time nor the place to attempt a suicide squeeze.
Scioscia lets Sox off the hook
All the momentum was with the Angeles. Francona had himself blundered by taking the unhittable Jon Lester out after 109 pitches, enabling LA to get back in the game.
After LA had scored two runs in the eighth, pinch hitter Kendry Morales led off the ninth with a double and Howie Kendrick then bunted pinch runner Reggie Willits over to third.
Manny Delcarmen had fallen behind Erick Aybar 2-0 when Aybar attempted to bunt and missed, leaving Willits stranded in no man’s land between third and home.
It proved to be the turning point of the game as the Sox went on to clinch victory and an ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays with Jed Lowrie’s walk-off single.
“With a 2-0 count, I felt he had to get a ball around the plate,” explained Scioscia afterwards. “Erick is one of the best bunters we have. It was a buntable ball. Erick just didn’t get it done.”
To be fair to Scioscia, if the squeeze had worked as planned, he might well have been hailed as a hero in the newspapers this morning.
But it didn’t…and you have to question the wisdom of his decision.
I’m no proponent of the bunt. You only get 27 outs in a normal game and I hate giving one away for free.
The Angels had three chances to bring Willits home from second. By bunting him to third, they reduced that to two. They were also drastically decreasing their chances of scoring more than one run and, remember, the Sox were up last.
Sour grapes from Lackey
It was a textbook move and meant the Angels could take the lead with a reasonable length flyball. Surely, with Aybar ahead in the count, Scioscia would have been better served letting him swing away?
“That’s our style of baseball,” said John Lackey, LA’s starting pitcher. “That’s what got us here.”
“We are a better team than they are. The last two days, we shouldn’t have given up anything.”
Wrong on both counts John. What got you there was playing smart ball rather than small ball.
And to say you’re better than Boston given your post-season record against them sounds like sour grapes.
The Red Sox have managed to overcome the departure of Manny Ramirez at a crucial stage of the season, a hip injury to third baseman Mike Lowell and a less than 100% healthy Josh Beckett.
They will have their hands full against the Rays, another team who dominated them during the regular season.
It’s the young upstart against the wily old pro. And the Sox have served notice that you’re going to have to beat them by conventional means.