I was driving home late last night, or should I say early this morning, and happened to turn on the radio. I usually listen to music, because 3 a.m. sports talk radio is usually a national thing, so I was surprised when one of the stations apparently decided to do a local show. Occasionally, I find the late night shows entertaining, whether it be because a light night host has to fill space talking to themselves, or because of the drunk callers from the south amuse me.
Last night it wasn’t drunk callers amusing me. It was the second guessing of Tigers manager Jim Leyland leaving Justin Verlander in the game yesterday to try and finish off the ninth inning. The callers varied on when Verlander should have been taken out and who should have replaced him, but the overwhelming sentiment was that Leyland mishandled the 9th inning yesterday.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not the biggest Leyland supporter on the planet. I don’t think he manages aggressively enough, is crappy with the media, loves Don Kelly and other “scrappy” players too much, and of course, I am often frustrated by his lineup decisions like everyone else. That doesn’t mean that every decision he makes is a wrong one. Letting Justin Verlander try and finish off that game yesterday was the right call.
I think most everyone can agree that Verlander was superb yesterday. After all, through 8 innings, he only had allowed the Rays one hit, and did it throwing just 80 pitches or so going into the 9th. It was a no-brainer allowing Verlander, who is easily the Tigers best pitcher, to at least start the 9th. Think about it, were you really worried after Jeff Keppinger led the inning off with a seeing eye single? Probably not, especially after he easily dusted off Reid Brignac.
Things got a little nerve wracking after Desmond Jennings singled, putting two runners on, but still, the Tigers had a 2 run lead, and Verlander was hitting 100mph on the gun. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t fresh like some callers suggested. He then uncorked a wild pitch while walking Carlos Pena that allowed his first run of the day. Here I think is where most people believed that Verlander should have been taken out, before facing Evan Longoria. A lot of people argued at this point, it was clear that Verlander was becoming unhinged.
If you really watch the pitch that Longoria got the base hit to score the tying run off of, it wasn’t a good pitch to hit. In fact, I would venture to guess, a hitter pulling an outside pitch like that makes an out 8 out of 10 times. Especially one that wasn’t hit that hard. Longoria’s single was just hit in the right spot. That’s all.
It wasn’t until after the Longoria hit that I think you could do a little second guessing. I actually would’ve left Verlander in there with the scored tied at two. Matt Joyce was coming up, and Verlander had handled him easily all day, and he was still strong, as evidenced by him hitting triple digits on the gun multiple times. Leyland elected to try and go lefty-lefty by bringing in Daniel Schlereth, who promptly walked the pinch hitter we all knew was coming. Why Schlereth was even warming up is a mystery. To me, Verlander and Valverde were the only options. Schlereth doesn’t belong in this situation with his lack of command and propensity to give up home runs.
After walking the pinch hitter, it put closer Jose Valverde in a rough spot, having to come in with the bases loaded and one out. I’m not blaming Valverde for the loss, in fact, I am not blaming anyone. It’s not like the Rays aren’t a good team, and sometimes the bounces aren’t going to go the Tigers way.
Justin Verlander is the Tigers ace. Their horse. Their Cy Young. Their MVP. I would give him the ball, and let him keep the ball every time in that situation. I would do it even over closer Jose Valverde, who incidentally, hasn’t exactly looked all that good so far. I realize that second guessing decisions is part of being a fan. I do it too. We all do it, but leaving your best pitcher in the game while he is still strong isn’t the worst decision in the world.
I say we give Jim Leyland a pass on this one. After all, there will be many more opportunities to second guess his decisions this season. Baseball is a funny game, and yesterday’s 9th inning was proof of that. Verlander was cruising, and to the shock of everyone didn’t finish off that game. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way, as Jennings was the only one who put good wood on the baseball.
Give the Rays some credit. They have good players too.