Column: Over-managing costs Dodgers in Game 1 of Series
Sometimes, in the pressure cooker of a World Series, a manager gets distracted by all those indecipherable charts and the trove of analytics he has at his fingertips.
Sometimes, he spends too much time flailing around in search of the perfect matchup instead of just watching what’s occurring right before his eyes.
That’s what happened to Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In a classic case of over-managing, Roberts helped send his team to an 8-4 loss in Game 1 Tuesday night against the Boston Red Sox by making one move too many in the decisive seventh inning, setting up Eduardo Nunez’s three-run homer.
The Dodgers were trailing only 5-4, despite another postseason flop by Clayton Kershaw, when Andrew Benintendi led off with his fourth hit of the game — a blooper down the left-field line that somehow managed to elude Joc Pederson before hopping into the stands for a fluky ground-rule double.
Roberts hustled to the mound to lift Julio Urias, summoning hard-throwing right-hander Pedro Baez from the bullpen.
Baez was left off the Dodgers’ postseason roster a year ago, when Los Angeles made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before losing to Houston, but he’s been a highly valued member of the relief corps in 2018.
He worked 55 games during the regular season, going 4-3 with a 2.88 ERA.
He threw a total of 6 2/3 scoreless innings during two playoff rounds, allowing just two hits while striking out 10.
Baez kept up his dominance against the Red Sox, striking out Mitch Moreland with three fastballs clocked at 96, 97 and 96 mph — the last one up in the eyes that Moreland flailed at helplessly. J.D. Martinez was wisely walked intentionally, setting up a possible double play, but Baez looked like he wouldn’t need any help from the defense as he kept unleashing a torrent of wicked two- and four-seam fastballs.
Xander Bogaerts stared at one, missed another, fouled one off to merely delay the inevitable, and then struck out swinging on yet another 96-mph fastball.
At that point, Roberts merely had to let Baez finish the job.
Instead, the Dodgers skipper popped out of the dugout again, signaling to the bullpen for left-hander Alex Wood. With left-handed hitter Rafael Devers coming up, Roberts let the matchup game get the best of him.
Boston manager Alex Cora countered with a move of his own, sending up the well-traveled Nunez as a pinch-hitter.
Roberts defended his hook of Baez.
“We talked about it with Petey throwing the ball well right there,” the manager said. “But Devers is really good against the right-hander. To get a guy off the bench in Nunez, I really liked Alex in that spot. I did. Whether they were going to hit Devers with the lead or go to the bench, go with Nunez, I still liked Alex in that spot.”
Undoubtedly, that’s what it said on the card prepared by a bunch of guys sitting in front of a computer.
But baseball, a game that has always been rooted in numbers and statistics, still comes down to a gut feeling from time to time.
A human touch is required.
Some common sense goes a long way.
Wood delivered an 83-mph breaking ball that Nunez took low for a ball. Wood came back with roughly the same pitch, just a bit closer to the strike zone. Nunez was ready for it, launching a drive over the Green Monster for a three-run homer that essentially locked up the victory.
Roberts had no trouble with the pitch from Wood.
“It was a breaking ball back foot,” the manager said. “Pretty much got it there. It was a ball. But he put a really good swing on it and kept it fair.”
Defying the analytics, Cora went with a lefty-heavy lineup against Kershaw, including the 22-year-old Devers.
Nunez, who usually gets the call against the left-handers, had to settle for a bench role in Game 1.
“He probably was a little bit disappointed that he didn’t start because he’s started against every lefty,” Cora said. “But I thought having him on the bench would pay off.”
Boy, did it ever.
“I told him, ‘Be ready, man. You might have big at-bat tonight. Do your thing,’” Cora related.
“And he did.”
All Baez could do was watch from the dugout.
He should’ve still been on the mound.
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