Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell has many admirable qualities, but in-game strategy is not one of them. PHOTO: Reuters
The Boston Red Sox are a game from winning their third World Series despite facing off against a Cardinals team with no major weaknesses, having to bench one of their best hitters for all three games in St. Louis, and a manager who has lowered the Red Sox chances of winning multiple times. Here are manager John Farrell’s three worst mistakes in this World Series, and they drop precipitously from understandable to bizarre.
Farrell’s third worst mistake: Letting Lester Hit In Game 5
It was the top of the eighth inning. The previous batter, David Ross, had just smacked a double off Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright, giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead, six outs from going back to Boston up 3-2. There were runners on second and third with one out and pitcher Jon Lester coming up to bat. Because this was in St. Louis, there was no designated hitter, which meant the Red Sox normal DH was playing first, and their usual first baseman, Mike Napoli, was on the bench. Napoli is an excellent hitter, while for Lester, as an AL pitcher, hitting isn’t even in the job description. Letting Lester bat there means at least a 90% chance of him striking out, grounding out or popping out, greatly reducing the chance for a big inning that could effectively put the Cardinals away
Why Farrell did it: Lester had been excellent up to that point, and Farrell wanted him in to pitch the eighth before turning to his dominant closer, Koji Uehara. Lester did face three more batters, but the second one doubled, and Lester was pulled for Uehara, who proceeded to get the last four outs as if making Major League hitters look silly wasn’t that hard. With the Cardinals hitters seeing Lester for the third time of the game, turning to the excellent Junichi Tazawa for the 8th inning and letting Napoli try to blow the game open would have made a lot more sense.
Farrell’s second worst mistake: holding Kolten Wong on first base
Bottom of the 9th, Red Sox up 4-2, two out, Carlos Beltran at bat, pinch runner Kolten Wong on first. Though Wong didn’t matter in that situation, Farrell decided to have first baseman Mike Napoli hold Wong at first.
To Farrell’s credit, this game ended with Wong getting picked off first base, which allowed Uehara to avoid facing the fearsome Carlos Beltran, and that doesn’t happen unless Wong is being held on first. To Farrell’s debit, there was really no way to predict that a pinch runner whose only job there is to not get picked off would get picked off. Furthermore, Beltran was batting lefty against Uehara, and Napoli staying on first base created a giant hole. Some might see Farrell’s decision as the work of a mad genius, given how this ended, but if Beltran grounds a single between first and second, and goes on to tie the game, millions of Bostoners would scratch their heads and say, “the *#!% was Farrell thinking?”
Farrell’s worst mistake: letting Workman hit
The situation: Top of the ninth, game tied 4-4, Red Sox at bat. There’s one out with the pitcher’s spot, currently occupied by reliever Brandon Workman coming up. Again, Mike Napoli is on the bench. Workman had literally never had a major league at bat. If the Red Sox scored in that inning, he was not going to come out to pitch the ninth—that’s Uehara’s job. If the Red Sox didn’t score, you don’t necessarily stick with Workman either. Tazawa was out of the game, but it was as good a time as any to bring in Uehara.
Farrell let Workman hit. In baseball, you can’t actually forfeit an at-bat, but the closest you can come is letting a relief pitcher with exactly zero major league at-bats come up to hit. Workman watched three 97 or 98 mph fastballs go by him, and then he sat back on the bench. In the bottom of the ninth, he got one out, gave up a single to Yadier Molina, and got replaced by Uehara.
Imagine that inning with Napoli instead of Workman. One out, Napoli coming up, followed by Ellsbury and Pedroia if one of them gets on. We’ll be fair and say Ellsbury still makes an out, but Napoli had at least a one in three chance of getting on base. If he makes it, then you get to Pedroia, who is very capable of giving the Red Sox the lead in that situation.
The Red Sox are up 3-2 in the World Series, which is an incredible feat by itself, but it is even more amazing given the managing they have had to overcome.