A dissection and understanding of Terry Collins’ 8th inning bullpen management in Game 4
In the World Series, a manager’s decisions can either serve as a path towards the commissioners trophy, but can lead them in the other direction and haunt him and a team over the long, cold winter.
For Terry Collins on Saturday night, he made a decision to place his faith in Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning, and task him with protecting a 3-2 lead in a must-win game which would allow the Mets to draw even in the World Series with three games to go.
It wasn’t an unreasonable or atypical assignment for Clippard, as he was acquired from the A’s to do just that, and bridge the gap to the ninth inning.
It started off well for Clippard. He took advantage of Alcides Escobar’s aggressiveness and got him to swing wildly at a pitch out of the zone and induce a comebacker.
But Clippard could not find the strike zone in the next sequence to Ben Zobrist.
With the Mets still needing five outs to secure a win, and Jeurys Familia warming up and probably ready to pitch, Collins stayed with Clippard with hopes he could get one more out or somehow induce a double play from the speedy Lorenzo Cain.
Clippard did neither. Instead, he allowed another walk to push the tying run into scoring position.
That’s when Collins turned to his closer, who just so happened to appear the night before in a six-run game, his first outing since blowing the lead in the ninth inning of Game 1.
“Anybody who’s a reliever would prefer clean innings, no doubt about it,” Clippard said. “You come in with two runners on and one out, and it’s the start of your outing, that’s a tall task for anybody. It’s never a fun situation.”
What ensued was disastrous, although hardly the doing of Familia. He got a groundball from Eric Hosmer, but Daniel Murphy was unable to field the slow roller and get Hosmer out at first. Instead, the Royals tied it, the go-ahead run was at third, and all of that spelled certain doom for the Mets.
Familia did his job, and got the ground ball.
The Mets behind their closer couldn’t get the out.
And instead of having runners at second and third and two out and Collins walking Mike Moustakas to face Salvador Perez with the bases loaded, two outs and the lead preserved, the game was effectively over at that point.
“When you allow them to have opportunities, the good teams are going to beat you. And they’re a good team,” Collins said.
But was all of this preventable to begin with?
With Familia warming up, why didn’t Collins go to him for a six out save, or at the very least, go to him to try and prevent the go-ahead run from getting on base?
Collins said Familia’s appearance in Game 3 – a non-save situation – played a role in that decision.
“A little bit,” he said.
But Collins also reminded the media that he has to have certain faith in his other relievers, and not place the entire burden on Familia night-after-night. And both Collins and Familia felt it his appearance in Game 3 was important for his psyche after the horrible outcome in Game 1 at Familia’s expense.
“This is what we’ve done,” the manager said. “To get back in it we knew we had to get through the eighth inning, and again I thought that certainly the way Clippard has been throwing, he’s been throwing the ball very well in this series.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean it was the right call, especially in the postseason when tomorrow might not come, and all teams and it’s players, managers and coaches must live in the moment.
After all, Ned Yost turned to his closer for six outs on Saturday, and it worked out just fine for him.
It’s always easy to second guess any manager when a decision doesn’t work out. And in fairness to Collins, by no means is it ever conventional to go to a closer for a six-out save in this era of baseball.
“We said before the inning, ‘If the go-ahead run gets on, we’re going to go to Familia,'” Collins said. “But I didn’t want to have to burn Jeurys tonight for two innings if I could help it.”
At some point, Collins has to be able to trust his other relievers. That goes for Clippard as well, who has been inconsistent at best since the start of September. But he cannot place the responsibility solely on one or two guys – eventually that will burn him as well.
Unfortunately, his trust in Clippard was not rewarded on Saturday night.
But that might not have been what cost Collins and the Mets, anyway. The decision – or in-decision for that matter – might have ultimately been inconsequential for Terry Collins and the Mets.