It's a Team Game Until Things Don't Work Out, Then Manager Is On His Own
The late Bob Lemon was selected as manager of the year three times. He was fired the next year each time.
“I took a lot of dumb pills over the winter,” he explained.
That’s life as a manager. They are the scapegoat when things go bad, even in this era of analytics, where the guys with the computers love to take credit for their innovative ideas, but are nowhere to be seen when things don’t work out.
Now, that’s not saying Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’ job is in jeopardy in the aftermath of the Dodgers seeing a potential victory turned into a 9-6 loss to the Red Sox, which leaves the Dodgers on the verge of coming up short in the World Series for the second year in a row.
But it was Roberts who was left to answer the questions over the late-inning meltdown.
The Dodgers went into the seventh inning with a 4-0 lead, and with one out in the inning, after starting pitcher Rich Hill walked the leadoff hitter, and struck out the next, Roberts went to the bullpen.
When the Dodger relievers imploded – how about seeing nine runs score while six different relievers combined to get just eight outs – Roberts found himself being blasted from a world of baseball experts.
Even President Trump weighed in.
"I'm happy he was tuning in and watching the game,” Roberts said. “I don't know how many Dodger games he's watched. I don't think he is privy to the conversation. That's one man's opinion."
Such is life of a manager, even in this era where front offices want to take plenty of credit for the wonders of analytics, something that dates back to the days of Branch Rickey. Isn’t it interesting that the folks who beat their chest and pat themselves on the back when there is success on the field are nowhere to be found when their facts and figures don’t pay off?
Managers get fired when strategy backfires. What about the men in charge of analytics?
They want to create lineups. They want to dictate usage of the bench, and how to handle pitchers. They just don’t want to answer when the plans blow up.
So it was Roberts who faced the media in the aftermath of the meltdown on Saturday night, a game in which relievers Pedro Baez and Julio Urias were both unavailable after having pitched in each of the first four World Series games, including the Dodgers 18-inning victory on Friday night.
Now, Roberts avoided bringing up anything about the analytical input into the decision-making process. What he did explain was that while the Dodgers were scoring four runs to take the 4-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth, Hill confided to him, "Keep an eye on me. I'm going to give it everything I have. Let's go hitter to hitter, and just keep an eye on me.”
Roberts heeded the advice. After Hill walked Xander Bogaerts on six pitches to open the seventh, and struck out Eduardo Nunez on three, Roberts went to the bullpen.
"I've never heard it," Roberts said when asked how rare it was to hear Hill tell him something like that. "You're talking about a World Series game where there's no margin up to that point, and there's a lot of emotions, intensity, effort, focus, and he did everything. He did everything to put us in a position to win a baseball game. And, again, we've got to do a better job of picking him up."
Understand, in 50 regular-season starts with the Dodgers the last two years, the 38-year-old Hill has pitched a total of one complete game. He has four complete games in 143 career big-league starts, and only five times in 2018 did he even pitched more than 6 1/3 innings, and never more than seven innings.
He has only three nine-inning complete games in 154 career starts – one each in 2006, 2015 and 2017.
And in two starts and a relief appearance in the last four weeks, Hill had pitched a total of only 10 1/3 innings.
So it was that Roberts was left to pray for his bullpen to provide relief.
The prayer wasn’t answered.
So he turned to Scott Alexander, who walked the only batter he faced. And then he went to Ryan Madson, who got the final two outs in the seventh, but not before giving up a game-tying home run to Mitch Moreland, adding to his post-season legacy of having allowed all seven men on base when he entered a game this post-season to score.
The Dodgers, however, still had a one-run lead. Roberts still had hope. But then on came closer Kenley Jansen, with the hope he could earn a two-inning save, but instead, Steve Pearce delivered a game-tying home run, the fourth home run Jansen has allowed in eight career World Series appearances. But then Jansen gave up 13 home runs in 71 2/3 innings during the regular season – seven more than he had ever allowed in seven previous big-league seasons.
With the scored tied, Jansen didn’t come back out for a ninth-inning. Dylan Floro, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda did, however, and combined to give up five runs before they could get a combined three outs.
And when it was all over, it was Roberts left to explain what transpired.
There wasn’t an analytics expert anywhere to be found.