In baseball, it is easy to second guess the manager, particularly when it comes to bullpen management. For a manager like Ned Yost, who makes decisions more with his gut than through statistics or analytics, that definitely opens himself to a great deal of scrutiny. Last night was one of those times for the KC Royals manager.
The trouble began in the top of the eighth with the Royals holding a 3-1 lead. With a trip to the World Series on the line, it would have made sense to go to Wade Davis for a two inning save. After all, Davis, a former starter, had experience pitching multiple innings, even if he did not do so for the Royals this year. Yet, with the potential for a second World Series on the line, Davis appeared to be the only choice.
Instead, there was a problem with the coming storm. Not only did the Royals have to face the heart of the Blue Jays order in the eighth, but there was a rapidly approaching rainstorm on the way. Yost had to balance the idea of potentially burning through Davis an inning early against the timing of the rain. It would not seem to be an easy decision to make.
And so, Yost went with his gut, holding Davis in reserve as he went to another reliever. Ryan Madson, who had been such a find for the Royals for most of the year, entered. The problem was, the Blue Jays had pounded him this year, battering him for a robust .600/.625/.867 batting line. Predictably, Madson ran into trouble, allowing the Blue Jays to tie the game on Jose Bautista‘s second home run of the night.
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Somewhat predictably, the KC Royals and Ned Yost were forced to send Davis out into the eighth anyway, in an attempt to keep the season from slipping away. We all know what happened next, as Davis ended the threat, endured a 45 minute rain delay and, after the Royals rallied to take the lead, had gone almost an hour without throwing a pitch. While he was shaky early, that just gave the Blue Jays hope before Davis ripped their hearts out as only he can to preserve the victory.
For the second time in a postseason game, Yost was bailed out by the Royals comeback. Just think back to the abuse he took when Yordano Ventura entered the Wild Card game last year, and surrendered a three run home run. Had the Royals lost last night, that would have been minor outrage by comparison.
What is lost is that, in theory, Yost made the right decision. While he should have gone with virtually any other pitcher, with Luke Hochevar, Danny Duffy or even Kris Medlen at his disposal, the idea that Davis could have been lost with the delay was right. Yost knew what he had to do; it was just in the execution that there was a problem.
In the end, it is all academic. The KC Royals are heading back to the World Series, and Wade Davis turned in a performance that Royals fans will be talking about for generations. Ned Yost, once again, gets off the hook. Even if it did not work out as anticipated, he still made the right decision.