Ausmus plots his way through bullpen in late innings
The memories of Tigers bullpen breakdowns at Fenway Park are fresh enough for most Detroit fans that they don’t need reminding. They were fresh enough to probably come back once Max Scherzer exited with the tying run on and nobody out in the bottom of the seventh.
The crushing home run never happened. Nor, for that matter, did the game-tying hit. It’s a different looking Red Sox lineup, of course, but it’s also a different-looking Tigers bullpen, as well as a different manager. Here’s how Brad Ausmus navigated through the Red Sox batting order:
1. Evan Reed for Scherzer after Mike Carp leadoff single in 7th
“We were going back and forth about it,” Ausmus said. “In fact, if Kinsler had gotten a hit [with a runner on to extend the top of the inning], Max probably would’ve been done at that point. So we had people ready in the pen for that contingency. But when he went to take the mound in the seventh, we decided that if the first hitter gets on, that was going to be it.”
Ausmus did not want to use Al Alburquerque, who had pitched five times in six days before Thursday’s off-day. Thus, the option was Reed, who looked shaky at the outset. He balked Carp into scoring position, then hit Xander Bogaerts on a 1-2 pitch after he fouled off back-to-back fastballs. He had put the go-ahead run on base, but when he got a 1-2 count on Jackie Bradley Jr., he pounded him with sliders, eventually getting the swing and miss he needed for the first out.
2. Ian Krol for Reed with A.J. Pierzynski pinch-hitting in 7th
How a team uses its lefty relievers is vital against the Red Sox lineup because of the big hitter in the middle of the order. In this case, Ausmus had Ian Krol warming for bottom half. Krol started warming up soon after Reed did in anticipation of Pierzsynski, 2-for-3 as a pinch-hitter going into the game and a .305 (25-for-82) hitter off right-handed pitching compared with 4-for-28 off lefties.
The risk to that strategy was Jonny Gomes, also on the bench. He has reprised his lefty-killing role for 11-for-40 hitting and two home runs off southpaws this year.
“I was really kind of banking on the fact that they weren’t going to use Gomes,” Ausmus said. “I could’ve been wrong, and Krol would’ve had to face him. But we don’t know what the status of [Shane] Victorino is. It was a little bit of a gamble, but fortunately it worked out for us.”
It worked well enough for two outs rather than one. Pierzynski hit Krol’s second pitch right at shortstop Danny Worth, who started the inning-ending double play. Alburquerque had briefly gotten up to start throwing, Ausmus said, but sat down after that.
3. Joba Chamberlain for 8th inning with David Ortiz looming
This is Chamberlain’s role these days, and it was an automatic decision for Ausmus. The question he had to consider was what he’d do if the Red Sox put a runner on base to bring Ortiz to the plate.
Amidst all those Red Sox-Yankees matchups, Ortiz put up a pretty good track record against Chamberlain, 6-for-20 with a home run, four RBIs, three walks and five strikeouts. More than half those at-bats came during Chamberlain’s season as a starter in 2009.
On the flip side, there’s Phil Coke’s track record against Ortiz, 2-for-20 lifetime against him. Coke made the ALCS roster last October for that possibility, but essentially became a decoy. If there was any chance of Coke getting into a big situation, facing Ortiz was it.
Coke began warming early in the inning, prompting a panic on twitter. Ausmus characterized it as a contingency plan in case of a breakdown.
“If just by chance Joba struggled there and the first three guys got on base, and we were in a bases-loaded situation with Ortiz up, then Coke would be the guy to get Ortiz,” Ausmus said. “We’ve talked about having somebody grasp the eighth-inning setup role, and Joba’s done that. I prefer to leave him out there. But if something went haywire and the bases were loaded with Ortiz up, then Coke would’ve been the guy.”
Chamberlain retired the side in order on three groundouts, leaving Ortiz for Joe Nathan.
4. Joe Nathan for Ortiz in the ninth
This is why Nathan is here. Besides the ninth inning being his, he had the matchup advantage against all three hitters he was set to face. Ortiz was 2-for-10 off him with no extra-base hits. Napoli was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. Carp was 0-for-4.
Getting Ortiz was the key. Nathan improvised a bit to get it.
“I think that’s the first time ever I threw a changeup in a one-run game,” Nathan said. “Eventually, I got him on a backdoor curveball.”