On Sunday night Game 2 of the NL Championship Series was tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning. The Cubs had Brian Duensing on the mound and the Dodgers had Yasiel Puig, Charlie Culberson and a pinch hitter due up.
Duensing walked Puig on four pitches. Culberson bunted Puig to second base and with one out and the winning run in scoring position, Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer.
That’s when Cubs manager Joe Madden brought in pitcher John Lackey.
Lackey walked Chris Taylor and that brought up Justin Turner, the Dodgers’ best hitter. Lackey threw a 1-0 fastball down the middle and Turner didn’t miss it; he hit a three-run, walk-off homer and the Dodgers won the game 4-1 and went ahead 2-0 in the series.
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Critics are questioning Joe Maddon for not using his closer, Wade Davis, to pitch the ninth inning, but few critics have provided an answer to a very important question:
If Wade Davis got the Cubs through the bottom of the ninth inning, who was going to pitch the bottom of the 10th?
Tie games and how big-league managers use their closers
Feel free to disagree and a lot of fans do, but here’s how a lot of big-league managers handle their closers.
If a game is tied going into the ninth inning, the manager of the home team will probably use his closer because if his closer does his job, that buys the home team at least two shots at winning the game; the bottom of the ninth and the bottom of the 10th.
That’s why Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts used closer Kenley Jansen to get through the top of the ninth inning of Sunday night’s game.
The manager of the visiting team is in a different situation.
If the manager of the visiting team uses his closer to get through the bottom of the ninth inning in a tie game, and that closer is limited to one inning, some other pitcher still has to pitch the bottom of the 10th.
The bottom of the ninth inning
Wade Davis threw 44 pitches and 2 1/3 innings on Thursday and after two days rest was limited to one inning on Sunday night. That tells you Davis’ arm was still not 100 percent. Maddon, like a lot of managers, did not want to burn that one inning from Davis in a loss.
If Maddon brought Davis in to start the ninth inning and Davis went 1-2-3, Davis would have been done for the night and it’s likely we still would have seen John Lackey pitching to Chris Taylor and Justin Turner in the 10th.
So how about letting Duensing start the inning, but bringing in Davis instead of Lackey to face Chris Taylor with two outs and a runner on second?
If Davis got Taylor to end the ninth inning, Davis would have to sit through the top of the 10th before pitching again and up-downs — pitching, then sitting, then pitching again — can be hard on a pitcher’s arm. If Maddon was protecting Davis’ arm — and it sounds like he was — he didn’t want to use Davis for one out and then, lose him for the rest of the game.
Same problem with having Davis come in to face Turner after Lackey walked Taylor. For that to work, Davis would have to be warming up while Lackey was pitching to Taylor.
After the game Maddon said he didn’t want to get Davis hot — all the way warmed up — and then not use him. So if Davis was warming up and Lackey got Taylor, Davis would be done for the night without throwing a single pitch in the game.
Why Maddon wanted a lead before bringing in Davis
Big-league managers and their critics believe in using closers when it does the most good, but disagree about when that is.
Pitchers can’t put runs on the board, so use Davis in the ninth inning — either to start the inning or come in with two outs — and Davis would be done for the night and Maddon would still need someone else to pitch the 10th.
Pitcher’s arms only have so many bullets in them, so Maddon wanted to use Davis when it would do the most good: with a lead.
Burn a quality inning from Davis in a loss on Sunday and then, if Davis has a tender arm and doesn’t recover in time to pitch on Tuesday, you’ve made a mess of two games.
Critics might have managed the game differently and next time they’re in charge of a big-league team they should feel free to do so, but what Joe Maddon did wasn’t crazy.
It just didn’t work.