Maybe nice guys can finish first and strategy is overrated.
With the loyal and likeable Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington one win away from defeating the cold and calculating Tony La Russa in this year's World Series, this is looking more and more possible.
With his arms on Holland's shoulders, Washington offered heartfelt and fatherly encouragement to the young southpaw. Holland proceeded to toss one of the best games in World Series history.
If the Rangers are victorious, you can credit Washington's motivational skills, the heart and tenacity of his team and the clutch hitting of Mike Napoli. The Rangers won't win because of Washington's game strategy, which five games into the Fall Classic continues to baffle.
When two teams are as evenly matched as the Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals, you wouldn't think that it would help that Washington seems more intent on winning friends than winning ball games. La Russa, on the other hand, is a master strategist who manages with his head, not his heart.
His players may not send him Christmas cards, but with six pennants and two World Series on his resume, they have to respect him.
The Rangers still have to win one of the next two games in St. Louis to secure their first championship, a daunting task that could be compounded by their skipper's unwavering loyalty.
With the forecast calling for rain on Wednesday, Game 6 and Game 7 (if necessary) could be pushed back to Thursday and Friday respectively. A Game 7 on Friday would mean that Holland could start on his regular four-day rest. Washington, however, insists that even if Game 7 is delayed until Friday, left-hander Matt Harrison - who has struggled (5.02 earned-run average in four post-season games) - will start.
Starting Harrison over Holland would be consistent with a laundry list of questionable decisions that Washington has made this series. If the Rangers lose the next two games, for example, Nick Punto - not Albert Pujols - is the player that should haunt Washington for the rest of his managerial career.
Punto is the light-hitting Cardinals infielder that the Rangers skipper elected to walk intentionally in the fourth inning and pitch around in the sixth inning with two outs and a runner on third in Game 1. At that point in the game, Texas starter C.J. Wilson and Washington should've anticipated that if they walked Punto, La Russa would send in Allen Craig, a .315 hitter in the regular season, to pinch hit for pitcher Chris Carpenter.
Washington countered by summoning Alexi Ogando from the bullpen and Craig promptly singled to score the winning run.
Pencilling a player like Yorvit Torrealba into his lineup in a crucial World Series game simply because, as Washington put it, "It was time for him to play" was another head-scratching decision.
Inserting Torrealba behind the plate in Game 3 had a number of consequences. First, Harrison, the Rangers starter, is obviously more comfortable pitching to Mike Napoli. He posted a 2.60 ERA in his 103 2/3 innings when Napoli was catching this season and a 4.39 ERA in 82 innings with Torrealba behind the dish.
Secondly, playing Torrealba shifted Napoli to first base, and a strong argument could be made that he's the team's third best defensive first baseman (behind Mitch Moreland and Michael Young). And sure enough, Napoli rushed a throw to the plate in the fourth inning that led to two Cardinals runs.
And you can bet that La Russa wouldn't have pinch hit journeyman infielder Esteban German, who hadn't batted since Sept. 25, in a crucial seventh inning at bat in Game 1. German proceeded to whiff on three pitchers. And while it's true that the Rangers don't have a potent right-handed bat on their bench, surely Torrealba would've been a better option.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Washington is a bad manager. The fact that he has guided the Rangers to consecutive American League pennants and eliminated teams managed by Joe Maddon and Jim Leyland is a testament to his excellent motivational skills. Skills so good that they could lead the Rangers to a World Series title.
But some of his decisions in this Fall Classic won't dispel the widely held belief that he's not a good strategist.
Some have argued that Washington's aggressive base-running approach was the key to Texas' Game 2 comeback win. But Ian Kinsler later revealed that he stole that crucial base in the ninth inning on his own. So it's hard to give Washington credit for that victory.
In fact, since a failed hit-and-run attempt in the first inning in Game 1, the Rangers skipper has not implemented any sort of running game, even though his team's speed is one clear advantage that the Rangers have over the Cards.
Hailed as baseball's top strategic skipper, La Russa has also made mistakes in the Fall Classic. His bullpen decisions in Games 2 and 4 backfired, and the miscommunication in the eighth inning last night that resulted in reliever Lance Lynn coming into the game rather than Jason Motte was inexcusable. But bullpen decisions are easy to second-guess and La Russa's moves are always made with the sole intention of winning, no matter whom he offends.
I suppose the bottom line is that Washington has his team one win away from a World Series title. So maybe nice guys can finish first and strategy is overrated.
My bet, however, is that in the next two games, Washington is going to have to start making some unpopular decisions, even if that means fewer Christmas cards from his players.
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