Game 55: What to make of Leyland’s mea culpa
Jim Leyland rarely does it, but every so often when a game goes awry after a move he has made, he puts the blame entirely on his decision and doles out none of the blame elsewhere. It might be once a year, but for one day, he takes it all on himself.
Sunday’s series finale in Baltimore was that day for him.
“I put this one on me, solely on me,” Leyland said. “[Porcello] was pitching terrific. I understand that. If it was different, the way the lineup was setting up, it would’ve been OK. But the way it set up, I botched it. It was my fault, nobody’s fault but me.”
It was an unusual thing for Leyland to say about one of his best starters over the past few weeks, a starter who took a streak of 16 consecutive scoreless innings into that seventh inning in question. If Porcello had been pulled after six innings and 87 pitches with a 2-0 lead, he would have taken all kinds of criticism, even if the Tigers had held on. The question would’ve been when Leyland was going to trust Porcello to pitch as deep as Detroit’s other four starters.
However, Leyland argued, it would have been the right move.
The reasoning from Leyland was twofold. The O’s had back-to-back left-handed hitters due up to start the seventh inning in Major League home run leader Chris Davis and DH Chris Dickerson. The Tigers had Phil Coke and Darin Downs available. Though Porcello’s splits aren’t as big this year between left and right-handed hitters, the former have historically given him his biggest trouble.
Left-handed hitters were 3-for-20 with eight strikeouts off Phil Coke coming into the day. Get him in at that point, and if he can retire both lefties, Leyland could play matchups against J.J. Hardy with a right-hander like Jose Ortega.
The other factor is that Porcello, though he had retired Davis and Dickerson twice already, was going to have to try to get them out a third time. And while Porcello’s curveball has been a huge pitch for him against lefties, both hitters had already seen it.
Again, it’s a somewhat surprising view towards a pitcher who just went eight scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts in his last start. And it overshadowed the other issues the Tigers faced in that game, from an Alex Avila bunt that turned into a double play to Coke’s struggles in a tight situation to the eighth-inning ball that Andy Dirks seemingly misjudged in left field.
One can question whether Leyland should have had Coke and Ortega warming up leading into the seventh inning so that Leyland could go to his bullpen if somebody reached base. To question whether he should have started that inning at all seemed unusual for Leyland, but in hindsight, he felt strongly about it. He also felt that once the inning got to Hardy, sticking with Porcello against the right-handed hitter in a potential double play situation was the best option.
“In my gut, I knew,” Leyland said. “I just had that feeling when I sent him out there that I should’ve made the move. And your gut usually tells you the right thing.”