CONVENTIONAL WISDOM BE…
Twenty four hours ago I was set to blog about Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona’s decision to start Trevor Bauer on the hill against the New York Yankees in game one of the American League’s Division series instead of ace Corey Kluber. I opted not to join the crowd of disbelievers though you will have to take my word for it that I was not going to second guess the decision. Did I have my doubts? Of course, but I was willing to give Tito a pass. He’s earned it.
What I was going to say was that Francona was going to open himself up to criticism if the move didn’t work. One of the advantages in this situation is that the Yankees had to use it’s ace in the wild card game. That meant that the Indians could get a favorable matchup with #1 going against the second best of the opposition. Is the first game of a best of five series important? You bet it is as 72% of the winners of game one go on to win the series. Now instead of taking advantage of that great regular season record, the Tribe would turn to Trevor Bauer (yikes the #3 guy at that) to set up other advantages later.
Conventional wisdom suggests that you go with your ace. Francona chose not to. He had his reasons. The usual five day rest for Kluber to go in a potential game five and being able to use Bauer out of the pen later in the series were part of the thought process. Meanwhile critics were aghast!
I can think of two other instances where major league managers went against protocol. Alvin Dark intentionally walked Frank Howard once with the bases loaded. One run as opposed to four if he connected was the thought process. Don Zimmer once started the runners in a bases loaded one out situation and a full count on the batter. What manager does that? Francona’s decision fits the category.
So how did it work out? All Bauer did was pitch six and two thirds innings giving up no runs, two hits and a walk while striking out 8. The Indians managed just five hits, (Jay Bruce hit one off the left field wall and one over the right field wall, Santana, Urshela and Ramirez hit singles to center) but managed to score four runs. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen finished up and the “decision” seemed like pure genius.
Sometimes a manager gets lucky. Another move made by Francona was to insert Jason Kipnis in centerfield. He was willing to give up a little defense to get Kip’s bat in the lineup. Kipnis does not get a hit, but makes a stellar diving catch. Go figure.
Perhaps the most interesting fact to me was a comment from one of the TV broadcasters that Francona was quite surprised that his decision created so much controversy. He must have been very content with his reasoning and a little naïve that people would NOT question the daring move.
The view from my seat suggests that it all looks rosy for the Tribe right now. The brilliant move may not matter that much though if Kluber does not defeat the Yankees tonight.