Rays - 120 100 020 - 6 12 0 Red Sox - 100 041 02x - 8 12 0Managers are, generally speaking, stupid creatures. Or, if not stupid, then extremely timid and wildly conservative. A manager is hesitant to do anything out of the ordinary, because if the move doesn't work out, he will be grilled and ridiculed. On the other hand, a manager who slavishly follows tradition - even when it absolutely increases his team's chances of losing - will skate away unscathed and never be questioned.
John Farrell managed "by the book" on Wednesday afternoon ... and it nearly cost the Red Sox the game. The fact that Boston's hitters came through in the bottom of the eighth does not excuse Farrell's counter-productive decisions.
Steven Wright (4-7-4-3-3, 84) was not very good and left the bullpen with five innings to pitch. Robbie Ross pitched two shutout innings as the Red Sox rallied. Hanley Ramirez crushed a grand slam in the fifth and Jackie Bradley hit an opposite field home run that landed atop the Wall in the sixth. (Xander Bogaerts donged in the first inning.)
(Tampa Bay also had what seemed like a key run wiped off the scoreboard in the fourth when Mookie Betts threw out Kevin Kiermaier trying to stretch a single into a double. Tim Beckham had been at second to start the play and should have scored easily, but he slowed up once he was around third and actually failed to touch home plate by the time Kiermaier was called out at second, which ended the inning. The run would have given the Rays a 5-1 lead.)
Matt Barnes and Fernando Abad took care of the seventh and Abad began the eighth. Nick Franklin reached on an infield hit and, one out later, Beckham walked. Corey Dickerson hit the ball well to right, but Betts tracked it down heading towards the corner. Matt Duffy pinch-hit and Abad walked him, loading the bases.
Farrell did not have many options in the bullpen. Brad Ziegler was out with the flu and Clay Buchholz had pitched the last two nights, throwing a lot of pitches. The only options were Junichi Tazawa and Craig Kimbrel (or staying with Abad). Common sense would tell you that this was prime time for Kimbrel. Boston led 6-4, but the Rays had the bases loaded. If there was ever a time that the game was on the line, if there was ever a time to bring in your best available pitcher, it was right now. Yet Farrell did not even have Kimbrel warming up. Why not? Because Kimbrel is the closer and because closers - according to "The Book" - pitch the ninth inning. Farrell did not even consider Kimbrel for a not-all-that-uncommon four-out save. And so it was that Tazawa came in from the bullpen, probably the worst pitcher on the team coming in in the highest leverage situation.
Even if you didn't watch the game, you can probably guess what happened. While Tazawa got ahead of Logan Forsythe 1-2, he then threw a pitch right down the heart of the plate. Franklin lined a single to left-center, bringing in two runs and tying the game at 6-6.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox faced Erasmo Ramirez. Hanley Ramirez walked to start the inning. Tampa Bay played their infield as though they were not expecting the Red Sox to bunt. And that seemed wise, because bunting is, in almost every case, a stupid move. But bunting is what 95% of managers would do in that situation, and so Farrell indeed had Leon bunt. It was successful, and Ramirez was now at second. But Farrell had, generally speaking, just lowered his team's chances of scoring. Looking at data from decades of games, teams score fewer runs per inning with a man on second and one out than with a man on first and no outs.
Brock Holt pinch-hit for Chris Young and singled to left. The Rays' outfield was playing shallow and Ramirez had to hold at third. Aaron Hill - mired in an 0-for-20 slump - lined the first pitch he saw to right field, scoring Ramirez and sending Holt to third. Jackie Bradley then doubled down the right field line and Holt scored easily. Boston had its two-run lead back, 8-6.
And sure enough, Kimbrel was on the mound for the ninth - and he had no trouble setting the Rays down in order.
Hey, let's add an extra level of idiocy to the proceedings. Guess who was the game's "winning pitcher"? Yep, Junichi Tazawa!
The white-hot Dustin Pedroia collected three hits, as did Bradley. Since moving into the leadoff spot on August 10, Pedroia is batting .463 (37-for-80). Pedroia is also 18-for-his-last-24 (.750!) at Fenway Park.