Saturday, May 2, 2015

Beautifully Managed (by Bochy, at least) National League Baseball Game

Tonight’s Giants/Angels game—San Francisco’s first interleague game of the year—was a striking example of the beauty of National League baseball. It was an also an example of manager Bruce Bochy’s mastery of N.L. technique.

In this low-scoring, nine-inning game, the Giants used all but one of their active position players, and that 'one' was their third string catcher.

The game started off at a torrid pace. Both starters—C.J. Wilson and Chris Heston—sailed into the seventh. The Giants led 1-0 on a first inning sac fly.

But in the top of the seventh, Kole Calhoun led off with a bloop single. Then David Freese grounded into what should have been a double play to Casey McGehee, but he booted the ball to Brandon Crawford who threw to second for a force out. The play was reviewed and upheld.

C.J. Cron singled to right and Matt Joyce singled to center, tying the game and putting runners on the corners. Bochy came out and Jean Machi replaced Heston. Machi struck out Chris Iannetta, then Angels manager Mike Scioscia made his first mistake. He let his starting pitcher hit with two outs and runners on the corners in the seventh inning of a tie game. Unsurprisingly, Wilson popped out and the threat was over.

The Giants took the lead once again in the bottom of the seventh on a two-out Andrew Susac single up the middle that scored Angel Pagan.

In the top of the eighth, Sergio Romo took over for Machi, whose spot didn’t come up in the seventh.

Erick Aybar reached to lead off the inning on an error by second baseman Matt Duffy. Then Johnny Giavotella singled on a soft liner to center.

With none out and the tying run on third, Romo struck out Mike Trout with a slider.

With Calhoun—a lefty—coming up, Bochy replaced Romo with Jeremy Affeldt. With runners on the corners and one out, Affeldt hit Calhoun on an 0-2 fastball.

This loaded the bases for David Freese, a righty, so Bochy brought in his closer, Santiago Casilla. What’s more, with the pitcher’s spot due to lead off the bottom of the eighth for the Giants, Bochy brought in Casilla on a double switch, putting Joaquin Arias at third base in place of McGehee.

Casilla got Freese to his a shallow fly ball to center, but Angel Pagan triple-clutched on the throw and Aybar scored from third.

So the game was tied again, 2-2, and Casilla got Cron to pop out to Buster Posey at first base to end the inning.

Scioscia removed Wilson from the game, and Fernando Salas pitched a scoreless eighth.

Casilla followed suit with a scoreless ninth.

Then in the bottom of the ninth, Scioscia brought in side-winding right-hander Joe Smith.

Buster Posey legged out an infield single to lead off the inning. Bochy sent out Gregor Blanco to pinch run.

Justin Maxwell sacrificed Blanco to second.

Susac walked and Blanco advanced to third on a passed ball that hit home plate umpire Bill Miller on the left knee. Miller collapsed in pain and remained on the ground for some time and was attended to by trainers. Miller remained in the game.

With runners on first and third and one out, Brandon Belt pinch hit for Santiago Casilla, who had been placed into McGehee’s spot in the lineup.

The Angels deployed a five-man infield and a two-man outfield, but Belt struck out looking.

Brandon Crawford came up with runners on the corners and two outs, a righty in Smith on the mound and Arias on deck.

Crawford was 0 for 3 but had hit the ball hard all night. Scioscia elected not to let Smith face Crawford and had him walked intentionally.

Bochy had lefty Joe Panik pinch-hit for Arias. Scioscia had nobody up in his bullpen.

He had to know Panik was on the bench, so he essentially chose to have Panik at the plate with the bases loaded instead of Crawford with runners on the corners. Panik is a career .299 hitter with a .339 OBP and Crawford is a career .242 hitter with a .312 OBP.

What’s more, both hitters are left handed and Scioscia didn’t even have one of his two lefties warming up.

Panik promptly lined a single up the middle and the ballgame was over.

It was a fascinating game. It was National League baseball at its finest. Bochy demonstrated his genius. Scioscia did not.

On a related note, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright is out for the season after he tore his Achilles running to first base on a popup. Since the injury, many have been calling for the DH in the National League (although Wainwright himself said the DH has no place in the N.L.).

Baseball purists rightly denounce this effort. The National League game offers so much more in the way of strategy and bench management from having a pitcher in the lineup. Tonight was the perfect example. 

It was a beautiful. It was eventful. It was exceptionally managed (at least by the N.L. guy). It was a National League baseball game. May it never, ever change.

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