You have a four-run lead thanks to another dose of brilliance from Trevor Bauer. Eight strong innings, handing the ball over to a bullpen that had been less of a dumpster fire. Cody Allen, the lone rock in said bullpen, was called upon to close out the red-hot state foe from Cincinnati. A non-save situation facing the middle to bottom of a cellar dweller’s lineup. This game should have been written off. The ninth inning appeared to be merely a silly requirement without any merit gained from playing it out.
The inning started harmlessly. Cody Allen pitches Scooter Gennett into a 0-2 hole, then inexplicably hits him on the hands with an errant breaking ball. A hard-hit ground ball by Eugenio Suarez forces Jose Ramirez to the ground down the line to no avail. Then Cody Allen struck out Jesse Winker and induced a hold-your-breath warning track flyout from Tucker Barnhart. Pinch-hitter Jose Peraza sold his soul to the BABIP gods for a flare that barely escaped the reach of first baseman Yonder Alonso.
Suddenly, the situation was an explosive one. The lead was now 4-1. Runners at the corners and the tying run at the dish. Adam Duvall caught a two-strike hanging curve from Allen and tugged it into the deep left-center field gap to narrow the lead to one. Scott Schebler enter… Scott Schebler free pass? Terry Francona rolls the dice on Cody Allen.
Instead of pitching to Schebler, Francona chooses to put the winning run on first base, resting everything on Cody Allen being able to put away rookie Dilson Herrera. The decision to walk Schebler was made quickly, without regard to the potential consequences. Joey Votto, one of the best hitters of the millennium, lurked in the hole. Why increase the odds of facing him in a make or break plate appearance?
To take it a step further, let’s consider Scott Schebler’s earlier plate appearances. The results? Three strikeouts and a groundout to third. The conditions of the strikeouts were even more pressing – he saw eight total curveballs. He swung and missed six times, fought one off out of play, and grounded out to third. What is Cody Allen’s most effective pitch? The curveball.
The decision to walk Schebler was made, followed by Cody Allen being unable to put a rookie away. The walk to Herrera loaded the bases for Votto. Doom had approached, and little did Indians fans know, but the hazardous moments were about to come to a boiling point.
Francona had seen enough of Cody Allen, who had eclipsed 30 pitches, and chose to get the lefty in the bullpen, as Joey Votto has been utterly average against left-handers on the 2018 campaign. The right call was being made, giving the ball to your effective veteran Oliver Perez. Or so Francona thought. He barked to pitching coach Carl Willis to get ‘OP’, referring to the lefty Perez. The problem? Willis thought Francona wanted ‘OT’, the nickname for a right-handed veteran reliever Dan Otero. Yes, a major league baseball team mistakenly called on a pitcher to close out a one-run game with two outs in the ninth inning based on a simple miscommunication. Votto predictably doubled off the righty and broke the game wide open, giving the Reds the lead for good.
In the post-game press conference, Francona took the heat and acknowledged his fault in the miscommunication with Willis. Beyond the inexplicable miscommunication, the biggest question that remains is how your pitching coach heard Otero as the choice and just went with it. There is plenty of blame to go around. Obviously, Francona should be clear and concise when calling on a reliever in a pressing situation. Even so, red flags should have propped up immediately in Carl Willis’ head. With any due diligence performed in studying the opponent, the fact that Votto is mediocre against lefties in 2018 should be the first thought in any of the coaching staff’s mind, especially the pitching coach. One would think Carl Willis’ first response would be something along the lines of “Huh?! You want a righty here?!” The moral of the story – be clear and concise, and have a pitching coach who understands the opponent and situation. Oh, and just throw a bunch of breaking balls to Scott Schebler rather than giving him first base without a pitch.