10/26/08 3:26 AM ET
Chess Match: Big calls in close game
Manuel concedes run; Rays gamble by loading bases
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
And of course, close games mean busy managers. When the result comes down to a single run, it means that tactical decisions take on greatly magnified significance.
Here's a look at some of the tactical sequences that shaped an unforgettable game.
Conceding the run
The situation: Runner on third base, one out, Rays trailing by two in the top of the seventh. Jason Bartlett at the plate.
The outcome: Bartlett hits a soft grounder to shortstop, and the Rays' third run of the game scores. After a walk by pinch-hitter Willy Aybar, Akinori Iwamura strikes out to end the inning.
The analysis: The Phillies should have brought the infield in. Even with one out, the potential risk of giving up the single to Bartlett was less than the damage done by allowing the third run to score. Philadelphia had already brought Eric Bruntlett in the game in place of Pat Burrell for defense, indicating that the game had reached the point where protecting the lead trumped everything else.
Winning with speed
The situation: Rays trail by one in the top of the eighth. B.J. Upton leads off with an infield hit.
The outcome: He stole both bases and came around to score on a throwing error by catcher Carlos Ruiz on the second attempt.
The analysis: Typically, you don't want to risk running into outs in front of your two best hitters. But Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria are both struggling, which changes that dynamic quite a bit. Playing aggressively, particularly against a pitcher like Ryan Madson who is not especially quick to the plate, made a lot of sense.
The comment: "I have to reiterate with all of my love that we take chances. I love that they're not afraid to make mistakes. That's why we're going to win. The moment you start becoming afraid of making mistakes, you're definitely setting yourself up for the loss." -- Rays manager Joe Maddon
The only option?
The situation: Bruntlett leads off the bottom of the ninth with a hit-by-pitch, then scampers all the way to third with no outs on a wild pitch and an error.
The outcome: Ruiz hit it almost exactly where the Rays would have wanted, but not quite hard enough. Third baseman Longoria tried to throw home to retire Bruntlett, but didn't have an angle and instead threw it over catcher Dioner Navarro's head, ending the game.
The analysis: The Rays had two real choices. One, let Grant Balfour try to strike out the first two batters without walking anyone. Two, load them up and try to get the outs at home or by strikeout. The second was likely the way to play, given the possibility of a squeeze bunt. One counter is that by loading the bases, the Rays did open themselves up to a potential Jimmy Rollins at-bat with two outs, though of course it never got that far.
The comment: "There's a whole bunch of different things. Victorino is so good. They could have bunted, they could have squeezed. There's a bunch of things that could have been out of your control. ... Knowing Grant, he could strike people out and he gets a chopper. So many things are happening very quickly right there, you try to make your best guess, and that was ours." -- Maddon
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.