Red Sox history is replete with examples of managers placing a little too much faith in veteran players during the postseason. Decisions were made that lost championships and cost men their jobs.
In Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, John McNamara left a gimpy Bill Buckner in to play first base in the 10th inning of a game the Red Sox led by two runs. His inability to field a ground ball off the bat of Mookie Wilson allowed the New York Mets to score the winning run and the Red Sox lost the Series in seven games.
In Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series, Grady Little stuck with a tiring Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium, waiting too long to go to the bullpen.
The Yankees scored three runs off Martinez to tie the game and beat the Red Sox in 11 innings when Aaron Boone homered off Tim Wakefield.
The Yankees went to the World Series and Little was fired.
Into this cauldron steps John Farrell, who on Friday afternoon will manage the first playoff game of his career. Farrell led the rebuilt Red Sox to 97 wins and a worst-to-first season that could earn him Manager of the Year honors.
But when the time comes, can he be dispassionate?
History suggests Farrell will play the percentages and won’t be afraid to temporarily anger a player if he feels the team will benefit. He is not cold-blooded but he is calculating.
“They pay the manager to make tough decisions and John always has a reason for what he does,” righthander Jake Peavy said Wednesday after the Red Sox played an intrasquad game at Fenway Park.
“He has lots of information on his side. He’s going to make the call that he thinks gives our team the best chance to win that day. In the postseason, he has to do everything possible to win that game. I think we all get that.”
Farrell and his coaches are generally driven by data and shun gut instincts. The Red Sox were one of the major league leaders in using infield defensive shifts and Farrell used pinch hitters effectively, getting a league-leading seven home runs off the bench.
Farrell will have even more information at his disposal on Friday given the weeks of advance scouting the Red Sox have done.
With bigger stakes, he could exploit what is a deep bench and bullpen to an even greater degree.
“Depending on the situation that arises, there may be a sense of urgency that might cause you to look for a matchup maybe more advantageous,” Farrell said.
“Whether that’s a pinch hit or to go to the bullpen earlier, because we have a number of veterans that have been in playoff situations, they know that things can change a little bit. Especially when there’s no tomorrow.”
Clay Buchholz, the Game 3 starter, had Farrell as a pitching coach and now as a manager.
He has grown to trust his judgment.
“That’s why he is who he is and why the team went out and got him. He obviously knows the game and is easy to talk to about certain things. He’ll let you know beforehand about the situation,” Buchholz said.
“He’s going to do whatever he needs to do to help us win and lead us in the right direction. That’s what he’s here for.”
In the postseason, tough decisions become magnified. A struggling starter may not get a chance to pitch out of a jam. Slumping hitters could fall in the lineup within a few days, not a week.
“You might not see as many guys going 6⅔ or 7⅔ [innings]. If you give him five good innings and you have somebody in the bullpen to play the matchup game with, that’s what it’s all about,” Buchholz said.
Said Farrell: “I think that’s been one of our strengths. While that matchup hasn’t always 100 percent been taken advantage of, I think for the most part our guys are expecting that. That’s how guys are prepared and that’s how they’ve been successful. To deviate away from that might send the wrong message to our guys.”
Farrell got in postseason mode last month when he dropped Ryan Dempster out of the rotation and into the bullpen. He did the same to Felix Doubront last week.
“There has been a great line of communication. He’s very truthful with us,” Dempster said. “Once he explains to you what the reason is, you realize that’s the right thing.”
Farrell doesn’t want to become too precise, though. The Red Sox had the highest-scoring team in baseball and he won’t change the aggressive style of play installed early on. If the Red Sox run into an out trying to put pressure on the defense, he’ll live with the consequences.
“I fully expect us to be as prepared, if not more, against our opponent in this series than we would have been in the regular season,” Farrell said. “Through that preparation, we found situations we might exploit. We would hope that would continue to be the case.
“That’s a characteristic that we started in Day 1 of spring training and in my mind, it would probably be not the smartest thing to go away from what has been a strength.”