ST. LOUIS – It's easy for one to imagine that when Red Sox manager John Farrell put head to pillow early Sunday morning, he was still stewing over a call made in the ninth inning late the night before.
No, not the obstruction ruling that drew the curtain on a 5-4 Cardinals win, sending Busch Stadium into celebration as the hometown team took a 2-1 lead in the World Series. (Read about it here.)
Instead, Farrell must be lamenting his decision in the top of the ninth inning to let a pitcher – a relief pitcher – hit with one out in a tie game.
For reasons we'll discuss momentarily, Boston's bench had been reduced to Mike Napoli and David Ross. For two reasons, Ross doesn't factor into this conversation. One, he's the backup catcher and needed to be available in the event Jarrod Saltalamacchia was injured later in the game. Two, and most importantly, Ross is an inferior hitter to Napoli.
Reliever Brandon Workman was Boston's fifth pitcher of the night and had worked the eighth. Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Craig Breslow and Junichi Tazawa had already been used. Koji Uehara, Ryan Dempster and Franklin Morales were, at the time, still in the bullpen.
After Will Middlebrooks struck out to lead off the ninth, Farrell sent Workman up to hit. Workman, standing in the batter's box against flame-throwing Cardinals' right-hander Trevor Rosenthal, didn't stand a chance. He struck out on three pitches, Jacoby Ellsbury was quickly retired on a ground ball and the inning was over.
Farrell had managed aggressively all night, the reason his bench had become short, but suddenly he went passive.
The point isn't whether Napoli would have hit a home run to give Boston the lead or whether he would have gotten a hit to start a rally. The issue is Farrell, startlingly, decided to play for extra innings and save Napoli, one of his hottest hitters, for an at-bat not guaranteed to come.
Farrell had wasted no time chasing starter Jake Peavy from the game. Down 2-0 in the top of the fifth and with runners on the corners and one out, Farrell pinch hit Mike Carp for Peavy. Carp grounded into an RBI fielder's choice to get Boston on the board, a better result than Peavy likely would have had against hard-throwing Cardinals' starter Joe Kelly. Good move, Farrell.
In the seventh, with the game tied 2-2, Farrell pinch hit Will Middlebrooks for shortstop Stephen Drew. St. Louis had left-hander Kevin Siegrist pitching at the time and Drew, a left-handed hitter, has been as close as one can be to being an automatic out over the last month. The defensive alignment shifted as a result, with Middlebrooks entering the field at third base and Xander Bogaerts moving a few dozen feet to his left to assume shortstop duties. It was another completely acceptable move by Farrell.
Farrell also had Jonny Gomes hit for reliever Felix Doubront in the seventh inning. An obvious move, you'd think, except, of course, for what was to come.
Unfortunately for Farrell, he got bit by the decision to move Bogaerts to shortstop. Matt Carpenter led off the Cardinals' seventh with an infield hit. The ball wasn't hit hard but Bogaerts created a slow-developing play. First baseman David Ortiz, a designated hitter forced into the field by National League rules, couldn't corral the one-hop throw. Carpenter was aboard and would later score on a two-run double by Matt Holliday.
Bogaerts is a natural shortstop and Farrell, obviously, trusts him enough at the position to put him there at a key time in a big game. The player didn't execute. You can't blame the manager for that.
Reliever Craig Breslow was charged with the two seventh inning runs. He allowed the Carpenter single and also hit Carlos Beltran with a pitch that grazed the Cardinal outfielder's left arm. Farrell went to right-hander Junichi Tazawa to face Holliday. Tazawa gave up the double. Again, the players didn't execute. There can be no fault found with Farrell's strategy.
After the Red Sox nicked the combination of Carlos Martinez and Rosenthal for two runs, to tie the game 4-4, in the top of the eighth, the Cardinals got a one out single from Kolten Wong with one out in the bottom half of the inning. Wong stole second with two outs and Carlos Beltran up. Farrell had Workman intentionally walk Beltran to get to the red hot Holliday. Holliday flew out. Gutsy move by Farrell but he must have liked the Workman/Holliday match up better than the Workman/Beltran showdown. It paid off.
Farrell showed a keenness to work the National League style and he employed a proactive approach for most of the night. That was until he let Workman hit for himself instead of calling on Napoli.
When Workman allowed a one out single to Yadier Molina in the bottom of the ninth, Farrell called for closer Koji Uehara, which begs the question, if Farrell was going to go to Uehara the moment Workman got in trouble, why didn't he just start the ninth with Uehara on the mound?
Farrell played the role of wild gunslinger but then suddenly morphed into the shy guy in the corner. You can't play for extra innings when the home team has the opportunity to walk you off.
To be fair, Farrell didn't cost his team the game.
But as he laid his head on the pillow, the gunslinger surely must have recognized he left the ballpark with one bullet left unfired.