It is difficult criticize a manager’s decisions when his team wins 9-0. This is particularly true when his counterpart puts on a managing performance so memorably horrible. Yes, I bravely hold the position that Bruce Bochy is out-managing Ron Washington this series. Indeed, Washington’s decisions (or lack thereof? It’s really hard to tell) from Vladimir Guerrero in Game One to the eternal eighth inning of Game Two have been so bad that my response has gone from baffled to amused to sad to thinking they are so obviously bad they aren’t worth arguing about. So I won’t dwell on Washington’s various mistakes, but on what some think is one of Bochy’s: not pulling Cain for a pinch hitter with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning with a runner on second and the Giants only leading by 2-0.
Given the Giants’ seven runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, it turned out that it wouldn’t have mattered either way, but obviously Bochy couldn’t have known that would happen. That is why there is some traction to the notion that Bochy should have hit for Cain. Like most pitchers, Cain is a terrible hitter, so much so that we don’t need to worry about the pinch-hitting penalty from whomever would have come in. With two outs, a bunt wouldn’t have done any good, so Cain had to swing away. A two-run lead isn’t impregnable, even with Cain pitching well. With no game on Friday night, the bullpen was available, why not use them for the last two innings? These reasons for pulling Cain after a job well done make sense, and seemed pretty persuasive when, with a runner on, Josh Hamilton came up to the plate in position to tie the game with one swing. Bochy ended up going to the bullpen and bringing in Javier Lopez to face him.
On the other side of the argument, just as it’s unfair to consider that the Giants ended up blowing out the Rangers in the bottom of the eighth in evaluating Bochy’s decision, it’s also a not the right move to judge it from the standpoint of Hamilton coming to the plate with a chance to tie the game. We have to go from the information Bochy had available to him at the time. While a two run lead is far from insurmountable, Cain had indeed been pitching well. Perhaps he hadn’t been as dominating in the sixth and seventh innings as he had been earlier, but despite the overall lack of strikeouts, he appeared to be handling the Rangers hitters well for the most part. Whatever stock one puts into pitch counts, Cain wasn’t over 100 at the time he came up to bat. Moreover, the beginning of the eighth didn’t look to be that challenging — Bochy knew Cain would be facing a pinch-hitter (who turned out to be the noodle-batted Julio Borbon; but even Vladimir Guerrero still would have faced both the platoon disadvantage and the difficulty of hitting off of the bench), then Elvis Andrus (who has been hot in the playoffs, but still isn’t much of a hitter), and then Michael Young. Hamilton would only come up if at least one runner got on, which is what happened. However, Bochy still had the option to use Lopez versus Hamilton, which he did. Bochy may not have wanted to bring in closer Brian Wilson because, other than the two innings issue, he still wanted to be able to bring in Wilson later if necessary. One could make an argument for say, Sergio Romo at the beginning of the eighth, but even that’s a judgment call based on how Bochy and his coaches felt Cain was pitching.
I can see the arguments for both sides, and things did get tense once Andrus got on base. But one more bit of data: the leverage index for Cain’s plate appearance was on 0.55. In terms of the Giants chances of winning at that point, the situation wasn’t all that crucial. I can see the arguments for pinch-hitting for Cain and using Romo to start the the eighth inning, but given the low leverage of Cain’s plate appearance, his chances against the likely Rangers hitters, and the availability of Lopez to face Hamilton if he were to come up, if I can’t heartily endorse Bochy’s decision, I have a hard time criticizing it. Given how the game turned out, I realize my position doesn’t take much courage, but hey, I’d say the same thing if Hamilton had homered, right? Uh, right.