In a tight playoff game that could be the tipping point in Charlie Manuel‘s season, the veteran skipper decided to go to starter Roy Oswalt in the bottom of the ninth to face the heart of the Giants order. Oswalt, who was scheduled to pitch Game 6 (if there were to be one), was going on two days rest. Oswalt wound up only getting two outs, one of which came at the expense of the winning sacrifice fly. Playing Monday Morning Quarterback, we can now approach the question of whether the move to Oswalt was the “correct” decision.
I think the answer to this problem can be both misleading and tricky. This was undoubtedly the most important game of the series for the Phillies; if they were to win, they would tie the series at 2-2 rather than being down 3-1, and with Roy Halladay on the mound in the next game would have a fantastic chance at going up 3-2 and only having to win one of the final two games to advance to the World Series. What does this mean? That Charlie Manuel was probably justified in bringing in any non-Halladay pitcher if it were necessary. The game, and specifically the moment in the game, was just too important to leave up to a pitcher who was less than the best available.
However, that begs the question: Was Roy Oswalt the best option for Charlie Manuel in the ninth inning yesterday? The other options left were starter/long reliever Kyle Kendrick, closer Brad Lidge, and lefty J.C. Romero. Oswalt was without a doubt the most valuable pitcher left, but whether he was the best one at the moment is a different story. Oswalt had just thrown eight innings (111 pitches) two days before and has little-to-no experience on that short of rest. Besides being tired, a pitcher who has just thrown a ton a few days earlier may have a tougher time getting ready to come in as a reliever, especially when that pitcher is a starter completely alien to the situation.
Moreover, it’s questionable why Manuel went to Oswalt before he went to his closer and best left-handed reliever. Going to Oswalt is not something you want to do, and he was not the last option available. Manuel could have easily gone to his closer, the guy who is supposed to be made for these late, tight situations. If Lidge got into trouble, he had the option of going to Romero for a lefty or even bringing in Oswalt to bail him out. Still, the logic applies both ways. To go to Oswalt, Manuel really had to have a ton more faith in Oswalt in that situation over Lidge.
Finally, the question of Oswalt’s availability for Game 6 comes into play. Of course, if you lose that game there may be no Game 6, but with Roy Halladay on the hill for Game 5 you have a pretty good shot of seeing the series go at least six games. Oswalt only wound up throwing eighteen pitches, and Manuel said that he does not believe that is enough to hinder Oswalt’s next start, but Manuel didn’t know how much Roy would throw at the start of the inning. Also, regardless of exactly how many pitches Oswalt threw, his entrance may mess him up in some way for his Game 6 start.
Still, as said earlier, if Oswalt was the best pitcher available for the ninth inning yesterday, it was probably the right move by Manuel. But Oswalt’s long start two days prior, along with the other options left in the pen, makes it less likely that he was correctly pinned as Option A. However, I said earlier this problem is tricky, and there might not be a truly “correct” answer.