The Astros and Yankees will square off in the ALCS starting Friday. John Granato, the dean of radio hosts in Houston, tells you how the Astros got there.
Game 4, Bottom of the 5th, Astros lead the Red Sox 2-1. With one out Charlie Morton walks Xander Bogaerts. Out of the dugout comes A.J. Hinch. In the bullpen for the first time in his adult life, Justin Verlander is warming up. The right hand goes up and in comes Verlander with Andrew Benintendi waiting at the plate. After four fastballs topping out at 96 mph Verlander comes in with an 88 mile an hour slider that Benintendi deposits into the right field seats.
A.J. is an idiot and needs to go.
Worst decision I’ve seen in 50 years watching baseball.
This move reeks of desperation.
After Verlander shut the Sox down for the next 2-⅔ and the Astros went on to win with a clutch 8th inning, Twitter calmed down. It was pointed out that even though the Astros won it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the right move (think back to last year’s World Series and how Joe Maddon used Aroldis Chapman).
That’s fair. Everyone has a right to their opinion. Mine is exactly the opposite. When he put Verlander in here’s what I tweeted:
AJ put himself out there with that move. Verlander not a reliever or 3 days rest guy but I can’t fault him for trying to win now. Love that— John Granato (@johngranato) October 9, 2017
A couple weeks ago I wrote that I hoped that A.J. had learned something from his first playoff experience in 2015 and it appears he had. In ‘15 he stuck with Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena even though they were awful at the plate. My contention was that you can put up with an extended slump in a 162 game season but in a five game series you don’t have that luxury. I thought A.J. lacked the urgency you need as a manager in the postseason.
In game 3, I was wondering whether or not he still lacked it. Carlos Beltran got the start at DH against Doug Fister which was understandable. Against lefties this year Carlos was good not great, but in that locker room no one is more respected. The guys look up to him and want to see him succeed. The bench exploded when Beltran had that huge hit in the 8th in game 4. Exploded. You can tell how much they revere him.
That said, when John Farrell went to left hander David Price in game 3 it was time for Carlos to sit down. He was overmatched as a right handed hitter this year. He hit .185, .228/.277/.505. Those numbers are just plain bad. Yet A.J. let him hit twice against Price in a one run game. You just can’t give away at-bats like that in the playoffs. You just can’t.
So when A.J. went to Verlander in the 5th inning in game 4 trying to hold onto a one run lead and end the series with his best pitcher, I certainly couldn’t be critical.
Did he put himself out there for criticism? Absolutely. First, using Verlander on three days rest doesn’t happen. Coming in in relief had never happened and bringing him in in the middle of the inning as opposed to starting it was even ballsier. He went for the jugular. (If you know poker it was like pushing all-in with just a 50-50 chance of winning the hand. But he was doing it with plenty of outs. He had Dallas Keuchel waiting on the river if he got beat on the turn and that’s a pretty good ace in the hole).
Was it the right call? That’s arguable. I can see both sides. But they won and that’s all that matters. How will Joe Maddon be remembered, as the guy who misused Chapman or the guy that ended the Cubs 108 year run of futility?
Time for the Astros to end their run and they’re one step closer whether you think it’s because of A.J. — or in spite of him.
This story originally appeared on SportsMap.