It’s the top of the ninth. Your team is down one run. You’ve been facing one of the best pitchers in the game for most of the night, Roy Halladay, but you’ll get Brad Lidge, a sometimes-elite closer who’s regular season ERA was 2.96 this season. In other words, there’s about a 33% chance you produce a run in the bottom of the ninth and anything is possible when you’re playing extra innings at home. Win this game and your going to the World Series, which you haven’t won since 1954. It’s time to try to win the game, right? Wrong.
The San Francisco Giants pulled one of the most frequent blunders in professional sports last Thursday night in their Game 5 battle against the Philadelphia Phillies. Down 3-2 in the top of the ninth, San Fran elected to bring in their middle reliever, Ramon Ramirez, rather than go with their dominating closer, Brian Wilson, whose 48 saves led all of the majors. Certainly, if they were up 3-2 in the top of the ninth, they would have used Wilson and his full, dark, dyed black beard (he does actually dye it, which is in sharp contradiction to what the FOX announcers suggested earlier this postseason when they said, “He has the fakest looking real beard). Why is it more important to prevent a run when up by 1 then down by 1? It really is the same thing. In either case, the relief pitcher is brought in to secure 1 run and win the game for his team. One run is relatively easy to produce? Double, single, done. Now, two runs; that takes a lot more development (After watching the Yankees produce only 2 multi-run innings for their entire series against the Rangers I fully understand this fact). If San Francisco gave up a run in the top of the ninth the game is essentially over, especially with Lidge coming in to face them in the bottom.
To assist the clueless MLB managers, I’ve created a list of situations in which the closer should be used.
The closer should be used:
1. When your team is up by 3 runs or less in the ninth or when the score is tied in the ninth
1a. Exception 1: The starting pitcher is still lights out
2a. Exception 2: The closer has pitched a lot of innings recently, BUT
*This is only the case in a 2-3 run game
*In postseason the closer’s past-pitch count is not as high a concern
2. When your team is down by 1 run in the ninth
*Same exceptions, and exceptions to exceptions, as rule 1
3. There are 6, 5, or 4 outs left in the game and:
3a. You are up by 1 in any of the below situations
3ai. Game decides first place in division or league
3aii. Post season game
3aiii. There has been a dramatic comeback of 5 runs or greater
3aiv. You have exhausted at least 5 different relief pitchers
3av. The closer has not pitched in 2 days and will not pitch the next game
4. For extra innings:
4a. If the closer has already pitched the ninth, he will continue if for an additional inning so long as:
4ai. Game decides first place in division or league
4aii. Post season game
4aiii. There has been a dramatic comeback of 5 runs or greater
4b. The pitcher threw less than 20 pitches in the ninth and/or will not pitch for a few days.
5. Whenever he wants to if his name is Mariano Rivera
5a. If he is pitching at home in the postseason, you have permission to forgo his actual pitching and declare yourself victorious
As I watched Ramirez hustle onto the mound, I announced, “Game over. He’s gonna give up a run and no way do the Giants get 2 runs off Lidge.” As usual, I was correct. Ramirez lost control of his pitch, Jason Werth took advantage and homered, putting the Phills up by 2. Game Over. He should have never faced Ramirez.
Those against this stance would argue that saving Brian Wilson was wise, because if the Giants tied the game, he would be available in the tenth. But this really isn’t a sound argument. If the Giants had enough confidence to bring Ramirez out in the ninth, they certainly have enough confidence to bring him out in the 10th. Plus, according to the above stated closer rules, he could continue into the tenth with a relatively light workload in the ninth and because it is a postseason game. In fact, bringing in Ramirez for the ninth backfired. He got pulled before completing the inning and the Giants were forced to go another reliever (not named Brian Wilson). Instead of using just 1 pitcher, they were forced to use 2, giving them one less for a potential extra-innings game.
Despite the Game 5 blunder, the Giants advanced past Philadelphia in Game 6, sending them to the World Series against the Texas Rangers.
World Series Picks:
Game 1: Rangers at Giants, C. Lee vs. T. Lincecum
A battle between 2 of the game’s 3 best pitchers will probably see less than 4 total runs. Lincecum is great, but Lee is unstoppable and historically unparalleled.
Rangers win, 3-1.
Game 2: Rangers at Giants, C. Wilson vs. M. Cain
Both Wilson and Cain are terrific second options. San Fran cannot go down 0-2 and Cain is 8-4 at home during the season with a 2.93 Era.
Giants win, 6-3.
Game 3: Giants at Rangers, J. Sanchez vs. C. Lewis
Look for the offenses for both teams to explode in the Ranger’s first home game. Texas has one of the best offenses in the league, thus:
Rangers win, 8-4
Game 4: Giants at Rangers, M. Bumgarner vs. T. Hunter
Neither team is expected to send their ace on three days rest. Look for middle relief to be exploited for both teams. It’ll be Game-1-ALCS-esque for the Rangers.
Giants win, 7-5.
Game 5: Giants at Rangers, T. Lincecum vs. C. Lee
If Lee was able to defeat Lincecum in Game 1 at San Francisco, what do you think he’ll do at home with the series tied at 2 and heading back to San Fran?
Rangers win, 5-1
Game 6: Rangers at Giants, Probable Starters: C. Wilson vs. M. Cain
Same matchup, same location, same result. C.J. Wilson struggles early and San Francisco dominates the relief.
Giants win, 9-3
Game 7: Rangers at Giants, Probably Starters: C. Lewis vs. J. Sanchez
Same matchup, different location, same result. Neither pitcher is game 7 material and I anticipate a somewhat sloppy, offensive-minded, exciting game 7.
Rangers win, 7-6.
Texas wins the World Series 4-3, capturing their first World Series title and crushing the hopes of the San Francisco fans in attendance and across the country. Cliff Lee narrowly beats out Josh Hamilton for World Series MVP.
(In other news, Brett Favre goes down with an injury. Can’t say, “I told you so.”)
(In soon to be news, Wade Phillips gets fired)