Baseball is a funny game sometimes– almost as funny as its fans. The Jays wasted an excellent Josh Johnson start, losing 4-3 to the White Sox on Tuesday night, in a game where John Gibbons’ debatable, yet defensible, decisions are being blamed in many quarters for the defeat. Indeed, baseball games are often won or lost on the margins– on nearly imperceptible inches and either-or decisions with slim differences between possible outcomes.
What gets me sometimes, though, is how hung up we get on one instance or another being the misstep, the spot we can place the blame for defeat, when no such point really actually exists. In tonight’s game, for example, looming over every late-game decision that John Gibbons made, is the fact that his club– his lineup, which benefited from his argued-against decision to bat J.P. Arencibia third– could only score two runs on Dylan Axelrod, a 27-year-old 30th round pick with 79 career innings in the big leagues, who put up both a FIP and an ERA above five last year, and whose fastball so far in 2013 has averaged less than 88.
The Jays’ first run allowed was the result of a pitch in the dirt that J.P. Arencibia couldn’t handle, while Josh Johnson was in the process of striking out Hector Gimenez. The home side could have caught a big break in the fifth, when after a lead-off Colby Rasmus walk, Maicer Izturis hit a ball down the first base line that may have had eyes for a double… had it not landed in
Paul Konerko’s Adam Dunn’s glove.
Yet for all the weirdness that came before it, the loss was all John Gibbons’ fault, if you ask some.
The manager was the one who took the hot bat out of the hands of Colby Rasmus, pinch hitting Rajai Davis for him to lead off the seventh, trying to get something going off the left-handed Hector Santiago. Rasmus had a .250 wOBA against lefties last season, compared to a .340 for Davis, so the thinking behind it is pretty plain– yet the move, I thought, was debatable. I argued at the time that there was a chance that the spot came up again, against a right-hander, in which case Davis wouldn’t be the ideal bat for the situation. There were also defensive concerns, placing Emilio Bonifacio in centre instead of Rasmus, and concerns with the fact that even if Davis had managed to get on base, he’d have been doing so with Izturis, Kawasaki and Bonifacio due up behind him.
I’m not sure there really is a “right” answer on this one, frankly. Maybe it sure looks like there was one in hindsight, but the poor results of the Davis at-bat came about through good process, and the question becomes murkier still when you add in the fact that the major perceived backfiring of Gibbons’ stratagem– Bonifacio’s misplay of Dayan Viciedo’s double in the ninth– doesn’t look, in reality, nearly as bad as incensed, self-righteous fans wanted to make it at the time.
“Rasmus would have had that!”
I was told this over and over on Twitter, and over and over I insisted– even though I could easily have skewered Gibbons and gloated (much like I think I am now, in a different way, right?) about having been right to question Rasmus’ removal in the seventh– that from where I was sitting, just behind third base, it sure as fuck didn’t look to me like anybody was going to get the rocket off Viciedo’s bat that carried far and fast out to deep left-centre.
That too is debatable, of course. Maybe Rasmus would have got to the ball– he sure as shit wouldn’t have taken such a brutally fucking ugly route as Bonifacio did– and maybe he’d have positioned himself deeper in centre, or got a better read off the bat. Nobody can say for sure, but in looking at the GIF below, I can say that a lot of people have a lot more respect for Rasmus as a fielder than they let on.
Still convinced it’s routine?
I’m not. So, for me, I’m going to chalk it up as one of those things that just happened– one of those damned-if-he-did, damned-if-he-didn’t moments that every manager faces on a daily basis. So too would have been the decision to go to Casey Janssen to start the ninth inning, following Steve Delabar’s twelve-pitch three-up, three-down eighth, I think– though I probably would have preferred Gibbons to go the other way there, too.
Can I kill the manager for it, though? Can I lay blame at his feet for what amounts to little more than the results of a couple rolls of the dice? Not when I can see the rationale behind the things he did in the way that I can– that’s a tremendous development compared to some of the ghosts we’ve seen decisions sacrificed to in this city over the years. And certainly not on a night when a depleted offence could muster no more than a pair of solo home runs off a guy below Gavin fucking Floyd on a club’s starting pitching depth chart.
It’s just baseball. You don’t have to like losing, but it’s going to happen. And when it does, while it’s real easy to look to the place where the result broke the wrong way through thin margins for error, that occurrence alone isn’t necessarily enough to single one person out to be blamed for defeat. I guess that’s what managers are there for, but I just have a hard time swallowing it after a game like that.