baseball

The Defining Moment: Giants vs. D’Backs May 11, 2011

You can dissect a Major League baseball game in many ways. Managerial decisions, inning by inning, each at bat, individual pitches, or the overall momentum of opportunity, execution, and chance. But each game is an accumulation of moments and instances mortared together to form the final structure. Even though a baseball game has no time limits, each contest is perfectly symmetrical; a large part of the grace of the game is that you can’t see the final structure until the final pieces are in place.

So it was when the San Francisco Giants met the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park Tuesday May 11th in the second game of a three game set, having won the first game Tuesday 1-0 on a Cody Ross run scoring single in the bottom of the 9th inning. On Wednesday night, things started badly for the Giants; starter Jonathan Sanchez had already given up three runs by the end of the 4th inning. Although San Francisco’s offense was alive it was being held scoreless by Snakes’ starter Armando Galarraga.

In the bottom of the 4th inning Arizona manager Kirk Gibson made a decision that created an opportunity for San Francisco’s offense. Buster Posey opened the 4th with a single to center field. After Cody Ross struck out and shortstop Mike Fontenot flew out, 7th place hitter Aaron Rowand walked sending Posey to second base. Miguel Tejada came to the plate with two out and pitcher Sanchez on deck.

D’Back’s Manager Gibson had two clear options. With two outs he could intentionally walk the 8th place hitter to face the pitcher and hopefully get out of the inning. There was an open base and despite Tejada’s terrible start at the plate this season he is still a professional Major League hitter who can do damage.

Option two for Gibson was to pitch to Tejada. In his first at bat in the bottom of the 3rd, starter Jonathan Sanchez had hit a double off Galarraga; add to that the “open base” in this scenario is third base, so an intentional walk to Tejada puts a second Giants runner (Rowand) in scoring position. Tejada came into this game hitting .195 with a .230 OBP, evidence of his offensive struggles this year. If Galarraga gets Tejada, the icing on the cake would be that Sanchez then leads off the bottom of the 5th inning for San Francisco.

Kirk Gibson opted to pitch to Miguel Tejada, who promptly singled Posey in from second. Galarraga then walked Sanchez to load the bases and followed that up with a wild pitch, scoring Rowand. Andres Torres worked a walk and Freddy Sanchez flew out to right field for the final out. Arizona 3 Giants 2. In the bottom of the 5th Aubrey Huff’s solo home run tied the game and in the bottom of the 6th Andres Torres’ ground rule double scored the winning run– 4-3 Giants.

First, there is no correct or incorrect choice here for Manager Gibson. He could have walked Tejada and pitched to Sanchez and it still could have gone south for Arizona– in a sense, either way works if no one scores and the Snakes get out of the inning. But…

I got the feeling that Jonathan Sanchez’s double in the 3rd inning unduly influenced Gibson’s decision to pitch to Tejada. In today’s game, former players who become managers tend to have two common faults: they are overly uncritical of their players, and they let recent anecdotal player performance influence decisions that are often better assessed with long-term trends and stats.

The thinking appeared to be, since Jonathan Sanchez just hit a double in the last inning, and Tejada is in a slump, let’s pitch to Tejada and cross our fingers. But the real question was, how many times in his career has Jonathan Sanchez had a multiple hit game? And how often do pitchers in general have multiple hit games? My guess would be the statistical trend greatly favored walking Tejada and pitching to Sanchez.

Gibson’s approach to making that decision helped the Giants start their offensive comeback.

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