Buck Showalter is considered one of Major League Baseball’s best managers. His Baltimore Orioles were in control in the American League Wild Card Game against the Toronto Blue Jays last Tuesday night. And his bullpen has been one of the best this season. Which was why many were scratching their heads as to why Showalter did not put in his best reliever in the game when a berth into the American League Division Series was on the line? Showalter kept his closer Zach Britton in the bullpen despite the Blue Jays having the winning run in scoring position with only one out in the 11th inning. Edwin Encarnacion crushed Ubaldo Jimenez’s first pitch into the second deck over the left field wall for a walk-off home run and a trip to Arlington, Texas in the division series against the Rangers.
Showalter did what anyone else would have done when their team is on the road, he saved his closer for a lead. Critics like to point out that no one would have left Britton in the pen and let Jimenez pitch to Encarnacion. These are the same people who complain that managers/coaches don’t follow conventional wisdom.
This also goes to show that even someone with an extremely high IQ is prone to the occasional brain fart. You don’t have to look too far back to see another so-called genius make a serious blunder in a big game. The Seattle Seahawks were coming off a one-sided victory in Super Bowl 48 and were one play away from making it back-to-back championships. The Seahawks were down by 4 late in the 4th quarter but had the ball inside the New England Patriots 2-yard line in Super Bowl 49. Head coach Pete Carroll decided to call a pass play instead of letting running back Marshawn Lynch run it in for the potential winning score. Russell Wilson’s intended pass to Jermaine Kearse was intercepted by Malcolm Butler in the end zone to seal the win for the Patriots.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick himself was caught making a questionable play call. With the Patriots leading the Indianapolis Colts by 6 points late in the 4th quarter on November 15, 2009, Belichick decided to go for it on 4th down and 2 yards to go… from inside his own 30 yard line. Gutsy call to be sure but Tom Brady and the offence were not able to get those yards needed for a 1st down and ended up turning the ball over. Peyton Manning then wasted little time to lead his offence for the winning score to keep the Colts, at the time, undefeated. Belichick was able to quickly put that behind him as the Patriots went on to beat the New York Jets the following week. Unfortunately for Carroll, he had the entire off-season to think about what he had done. Showalter will now have to do the same.
Usually an error in judgment in a game of big significance is a serious hit to one’s credibility. But I think Showalter, Belichick, and Carroll are too good to let their mistakes hang over them. It will hardly make a serious dent into their armour and they will move past this. This is what winning championships will allow you to have, some margin for error.