Terry Collins learned late Sunday night what everyone who gambles on NFL games already knows: Make decisions with reason, not emotion.
Collins said, “I let my heart get in the way of my gut,” after Matt Harvey started the ninth inning with a walk to Lorenzo Cain and a double by Eric Hosmer. Sometimes it’s better when your gut overwhelms your heart; the ninth inning of Game 5 is no time for sentiment.
Collins wasn’t all wrong. Harvey dominated the first eight innings with nine strikeouts on 102 pitches, and it seemed curious when the manager sent his pitching coach to Harvey to tell him to stay put for the last three outs.
Maybe Collins was concerned about Harvey’s reconstructed elbow, but Harvey was already 36 innings past his limit for 2015. What’s one more? And the ninth inning of Game 5 of the World Series is no place to start thinking about next year.
The first misgiving Collins must have had was when the fans cheered Harvey’s return to the mound. Those are the same kind of experts who always think it’s time to put in the backup quarterback, even if he’s worse than the starter. Their approval is not that which you should be seeking. Or as an many an ex-coach has said: “If you listen to the fans in the stands, you’ll end up sitting with them.”
Even more ominous was Harvey’s leadoff walk of Lorenzo Cain. The latter doesn’t walk off often, but when he does, the Royals usually score multiple runs.
It was Cain whose walk followed Ben Zobrist’s off Tyler Clippard in the three-run eighth-inning of Game 4, and it was Cain who walked just 37 times in 604 plate appearances this season, or once every 16.3 appearances (Cain walked 11 times in 74 postseason plate appearances, or once every 6.7, a change of approach worthy of a championship).
That was the point, with Eric Hosmer due, that it seems Harvey certainly should have come out. Better to pull your starter a pitch too early than a pitch too late.
But Collins said, “If you’re going to let him just face one guy, you shouldn’t have sent him out there.” Which brings us back to Collins’ gut.
Hosmer doubled and then Collins went for Jeurys Familia, whose Series performance was checkered, at best. “When the double (was) hit, that’s when I said, ‘I’ve got to see if we can get out of this with only one run,’ ” Collins said, which presumably was the Mets’ goal when the inning started.
They couldn’t but only because of Hosmer’s run for home from the Jorge Posada School of Baserunning, whose first rule is that the element of surprise will always save you.
Hosmer would have been out with any kind of decent assist, but Lucas Duda’s throw home was a lot like most of Nolan Ryan’s as a young pitcher — wild and way off target, if not as fast. That gave Familia three blown saves in the Series — one on a 400-foot home run, one on an infield error (though two hits followed) and Sunday’s when he retired all six batters he faced (three in the ninth, three in the 10th).
After that, it was a question of when and how many, and the answers were the 12th and more than enough.
Collins took the blame but he needn’t. The Royals won this World Series, and Collins’ decision-making had less to do with that than the Mets’ gaffes, the Royals’ lack of them and the Royals’ bullpen. (If you want to criticize Collins, do so for allowing Yoenis Cespedes, on one sure leg, to bat with the bases loaded and none out in the sixth. A productive out there, instead of Cespedes’ popup, might have led to another run. There’s no telling how many outs the Royals might have accumulated if Cespedes had hit a ground ball.)
The Royals trailed in all four of their victories, and three times by multiple runs. But they outscored the Mets 15-1 from the seventh inning on, won two extra-inning games, the only one-run game and the only two-run game. According to fangraphs.com, the Royals scored 51 runs this postseason from the seventh inning on; the other nine postseason teams scored 55 runs combined.
Some of that was because of defense — the Royals made two errors, one of which led to the Mets’ only post-seventh inning run; the Mets made six, two which lost games and Duda’s throw, which wasn’t an error but cost another.
And most of it was because of the bullpens. Not including Franklin Morales’ two-out appearance in Game 3, Royals relievers pitched 23.1 innings and allowed a single earned run (14 hits, five walks, 30 strikeouts). Mets relievers pitched 21.1 innings and allowed 10 earned runs and two more unearned runs which lost games.
No one can manage around that difference, no matter how big their gut.
Correction: An earlier version said Harvey had thrown 103 pitches after eight innings.