10/14/08 1:55 AM ET
Chess Match: An abundance of strategy
Manuel, Torre thrust and parry consistently in cerebral Game 4
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Sometimes the Chess Match has to be stretched to find truly defining decisions, but not in Game 4 of the NLCS. In this case, there were more interesting decisions than we can even get to.
Don't let Manny be the man
The situation: With a runner on second base and one out in the bottom of the second, and the Dodgers trailing, 2-0, Manny Ramirez comes to the plate.
The decision: The Phillies walked Ramirez intentionally, the first of three free passes (two intentional) that the slugger received on the night.
The outcome: Two batters later, James Loney stroked an RBI double that got the Phils on the board. After Ramirez's intentional walk in the sixth, Russell Martin lined into a double play.
The analysis: The Phils have decided that they're not going to let Ramirez beat them under nearly any circumstances, and much of the time they'll be right. The rest of the Dodgers' order has been spotty at times, though on Monday night Loney had a fine game.
The comment: "Up and down our lineup, you don't know who's going to get the big hit. Anybody can do it." -- Loney
Set 'em up, knock 'em down
The situation: The Dodgers have moved ahead, 3-2, in the fifth inning. Ramirez is on second base with one out, and Loney steps in. Loney has already singled and doubled on the evening.
The decision: Philadelphia issued an intentional walk to Loney, choosing to pitch instead to Blake DeWitt with runners on first and second.
The outcome: DeWitt grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, ending the threat.
The analysis: It's scary to put runners on in an inning that's threatening to get away, but this was definitely a sensible move. Loney is a more dangerous hitter than DeWitt, and it's wise to be playing for the double play.
A true chess match
The situation: The Dodgers take that same 3-2 lead into the top of the sixth.
The decisions, and the outcomes: There were a bunch of both. Torre started it by lifting his starter, Derek Lowe, for rookie lefty Clayton Kershaw to face the lefty Ryan Howard. After three batters -- and one out -- Manuel removed lefty Greg Dobbs for right-handed-hitting Pedro Feliz, and Torre countered with righty Chan Ho Park.
Park retired Feliz and catcher Carlos Ruiz, but when Manuel summoned Geoff Jenkins, who has hammered Park, Torre countered with lefty Joe Beimel. Manuel pulled Jenkins back for So Taguchi, who hit a sinking liner to right field, but Andre Ethier made a superb sliding catch to end the inning.
The analysis: Getting Lowe was likely the right call. On short rest, in a close game, you'd rather be too quick with the hook than too slow (a problem that seemed to plague Manuel at times through the evening). And Kershaw, a very tough young lefty, was a fine choice, especially in the hope that he might go an inning or more.
When Kershaw got in some trouble, though, Torre knew he had to get the kid out of the game. Feliz is a major power threat against lefties and almost a non-factor against right-handers, so countering him with Park was correct.
Ideally, Manuel would have countered by removing Feliz, but he didn't want to be in a position with both of his third basemen out of the game. Eric Bruntlett can play there, but Bruntlett now serves as Manuel's defensive replacement in the outfield. The mistake, then, was leaving Ruiz in to hit against Park, rather than calling on Jenkins. Although Ruiz drew a walk, the outcome doesn't necessarily justify the decision.
Once two batters had passed, and Jenkins came in, the Dodgers had a lefty ready and were able to counter. Still, if the game had gone extra innings, it's likely that burning through all those pitchers could have cost the Dodgers.
The comment: "[Lowe] had to work hard every inning, even though he was in the 70s pitch-count-wise, the only one-two-three inning he had was the fifth inning. I thought at that point, especially when we took the lead, [it was the right time to pull him] because it just looked like he was fighting his emotions the whole game." -- Torre
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.