ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- This is how it works.
For the teams that remain alive, the significance of every postseason game is so far-reaching -- essentially, in the American League Division Series, each contest is the equivalent of 20 percent of a season -- that the scrutiny attendant upon each managerial decision carries with it an epic weight, particularly a) when some of those decisions invariably occupy a gray area where there is not universal agreement and b) some of those decisions can be construed to contribute to a defeat.
In other words: Welcome to the postseason, manager John Farrell.
The Red Sox' 5-4 loss in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Rays was a phenomenal game that highlighted the possibility for unyielding tension of an October baseball game, complete with those pressure points where a decision by Farrell had a chance to send the Sox down one of two roads divergent. Because the Red Sox lost, it will be easy to look at that bottom line and to draw the conclusion that one, some, maybe even several of Farrell's decisions backfired.
As surely as it was easy to suggest that the Red Sox manager pushed all the right buttons in a Game 2 victory in which his bullpen blasted one zero after another on the scoreboard, so, too, did the ultimate outcome of Game 2 subject Farrell's decision-making to scrutiny.
Farrell understands that such second-guessing, particularly after losses, is part of the gig in Boston, just as surely as he understands that, no matter who the manager, the outcome is ultimately determined not from the dugout but instead on the field, a notion that came to light when Farrell was asked to assess the significance of his contribution to the 2013 Red Sox prior to the game.
"One of many that have contributed to this team," Farrell said of his role. "Whether a lot of people have written or talked about the turnaround or the transformation this team has gone through. When I say one of many, it started with [GM Ben Cherington] and reshaping this roster. It's been the attitude of the players that we've brought in.
"So whether you set a tone in spring training with how we want to go about playing, that might be where it starts. But I've always said the success of a team, and particularly in this sport, it's about the players first and foremost. And in my mind it will always be about the players."
That said, on Monday, there were a number of moments where Farrell's deployment of his players was subject to inquiry (as is almost inevitable following a loss).
PITCHING TO EVAN LONGORIA IN THE BOTTOM OF THE FIFTH INNING
The Red Sox were up, 3-0, in the bottom of the fifth, with Clay Buchholz having managed to work around harm through the first four-plus innings. But in this instance, with runners on second and third and two outs, the right-hander could not do what he'd done one inning earlier (punch out Longoria) and instead left the pitch up just enough that Longoria could golf it just over the fence in left for a game-tying three-run homer that restored the pulse of a Rays team that seemed close to flat-lining.
"Finally Longo got him. And then it ties it up right there and all of a sudden it's a different world," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "They have been outplaying us all year. They were outplaying us again today. But finally, like I said, Longo kind of was talking about that boulder you have to start pushing in the other direction. I think that was the moment."
Should Longoria, the Rays' best hitter, have been permitted to push against the boulder?
On the one hand, he's the Rays' best hitter. On the other hand, in his career prior to that moment, he had hit Buchholz at a .194/.275/.278 clip. Longoria had never gone deep in 40 plate appearances against Buchholz -- the most plate appearances he had against any big league pitcher without taking him deep at least once.
So, did Farrell consider walking Longoria there?
"No, not to bring the go-ÃÂahead run to the plate," Farrell said of whether he considered an intentional walk with first base open. "Clay had struck him out, popped him up on two other changeups, and he got ahead in the count 0=1. The changeup was near the spot that he tried to throw one down and in on him, just didn't get to the bottom of the zone as much. But, no, no consideration on walking him."
PITCHING TO EVAN LONGORIA IN THE BOTTOM OF THE SEVENTH
Two innings after the homer, Farrell was again confronted with the decision about whether or not to pitch to Longoria with first base open. This time, Junichi Tazawa had been brought in expressly to face Longoria after Craig Breslow permitted a one-out single to Ben Zobrist. Longoria was 0-for-6 with three strikeouts in his career against Tazawa, but the right-hander uncorked a wild pitch on the first pitch of the at-bat, bouncing a curve that allowed Zobrist to advance to second and giving Longoria a 1-0 advantage in the count at a time when a hit would likely unknot a 3-3 tie.
Tazawa didn't blink, got a pop-up from Longoria and then struck out right fielder Wil Myers for the third out of the inning, keeping the tie intact.
PINCH-RUNNING QUINTIN BERRY FOR DAVID ORTIZ IN THE TOP OF THE EIGHTH INNING
The Red Sox acquired Berry in late-August specifically so that he could change a game in the late innings. When Ortiz worked a nine-pitch walk to lead off the top of the eighth against Rays flamethrower Jake McGee, his opportunity had arrived.
Of course, inserting Berry into the game meant that the Sox would not have Ortiz available in the lineup if the game were to continue. That said, the team still had a strong hitting option in Mike Carp should the situation come to that. Meanwhile, the Sox identified an opportunity to win the game in that moment.
Berry did manage to steal second (aided by what appeared to be a blown call), but he was stranded there when Mike Napoli grounded to short, Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out and Stephen Drew fouled out. That, in turn, led to a situation in the bottom of the ninth where, with Jacoby Ellsbury on third and two outs, Carp punched out against Fernando Rodney in his first plate appearance of the game.
So, in hindsight, was Farrell still comfortable with pinch-running for his best hitter?
"In that situation in the 8th inning," said Farrell, "not knowing if his spot is going to come back around, didn't want to miss an opportunity. Berry does his job, gets the stolen base, unfortunately we got a man in scoring position with one out, a strikeout and a popup against McGee. But, no, I don't second-guess that pinch run move there."
Ortiz likewise endorsed the move.
"I don’t like coming out of the game, but I think it was a good move. You got what John was looking for," said Ortiz. "Berry advanced to second base with nobody out. We just didn’t bring the guy in. I think it was a good move. Tie game in the eighth. You don’t see that many teams beating Tampa late in the game in a tie game. They play really well. You’re going to try to score runs, as many as you can."
NOT PINCH-HITTING XANDER BOGAERTS FOR STEPHEN DREW IN THE EIGHTH
Farrell said in September that there would likely come a time when the games took on urgency that he would pinch-hit Xander Bogaerts for Stephen Drew against tough left-handed pitchers. Yet when such an opportunity presented itself, with the hard-throwing McGee on the mound, two outs and Berry on second in the top of the eighth, Farrell stuck with Drew, who saw six fastballs (all 96 mph and up), concluding with a 1-2 96 mph heater that Drew fouled to Longoria to quash the rally.
Why no Bogaerts?
"McGee has been dominant against right-handed hitters. He's almost a right-handed reliever in some ways because of the strong reverse splits he has," Farrell said. "Stephen is a good fastball hitter. We know McGee is going to come at us with 95 percent fastballs, if not more. There was no hesitation to leave Stephen at the plate."
The notion that McGee demonstrates extreme reverse splits isn't quite accurate. It would probably be more accurate to suggest he's been overpowering against everyone, with left-handers owning a .235/.295/.383 line against him and righties owning a .217/.287/.362 line. He's been better against righties, but the difference has been relatively slight. Meanwhile, Drew was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and a walk against McGee. He hit .196/.246/.340 against lefties during the regular season, while Bogaerts was 7-for-15 with three walks and just one strikeout for a .467/.556/.533 line.
It is worth noting that Farrell used Bogaerts as a pinch-runner for Will Middlebrooks in the ninth, and that in that capacity, Bogaerts scored the game-tying run from third on a groundout in which the 21-year-old was running on contact. Middlebrooks might not have scored on that play.