ST. LOUIS — Down 2-1 in the World Series following a depressing 5-4 loss to the Cardinals, Red Sox manager John Farrell now has to manage his personnel to perfection like at no other time of the season.
The Jonny Gomes/Daniel Nava thing was minor compared with the decision Farrell needs to make going forward: either keep Stephen Drew at shortstop because he’s the best defender or move Xander Bogaerts to short and play Will Middlebrooks or Mike Napoli at third.
“We just walked off the field and we haven’t thought about tomorrow’s lineup,” Farrell said when asked about Drew’s status.
Farrell has gone the best-defender route all along. Despite Drew’s 4 for 44 in the postseason (including two strikeouts Saturday night), he has been excellent defensively. But the fans and a lot of the non-baseball media want him out.
And Saturday night was a great example of what happens when you give up defense.
When Farrell pinch-hit Middlebrooks for Drew in the seventh inning, Bogaerts shifted to shortstop and Middlebrooks stayed in to play third. Both decisions had major ramifications on the game’s outcome.
Middlebrooks found himself in the middle of an obstruction play when he tripped Allen Craig, who was trying to score from third base on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s overthrow in the bottom of the ninth. It was an Ed Armbrister Game 3 of the 1975 World Series moment for the Red Sox.
Dustin Pedroia had made an incredible play to stop Jon Jay’s hard-hit grounder from going through the infield. Pedroia popped up and threw Yadier Molina out at the plate. Saltalamacchia then threw to third base to try to get Craig. But the throw went by Middlebrooks, who dived for the throw and then was forlorn on the ground. As both runner and fielder scrambled to get up, Middlebrooks’s legs tripped Craig and obstruction was called.
Farrell called it a “bitter pill to swallow” and he couldn’t understand how Middlebrooks could have gotten out of the way when he was diving to catch the ball.
While that play will go down in World Series history as memorable, prior to that, in the bottom of the seventh, is when the game may have been lost.
Middlebrooks and Bogaerts now made up the left side of the Sox infield when Matt Carpenter led off by reaching on an infield single. The ball bounded into the hole between short and third. Bogaerts got to it, but his foot work, or lack thereof, didn’t allow himself to get planted as a veteran shortstop would. The offbalance sidearm throw was to the right field side of David Ortiz at first base and he couldn’t come up with it.
Mike Napoli, who spent the game on the bench, likely would have scooped the throw, but it was not clear whether that would have been good enough to get Carpenter. Fact is, Drew probably would have not only fielded the ball in position, but would have made a strong throw to first because that’s what he does.
“We were playing him up the middle, I had to go in the hole to get it,’’ said Bogaerts. “I saw on the video that he was gonna beat it out, but I needed to make a better throw.”
Drew has one of the most accurate throwing arms of any shortstop in baseball, which is why Farrell prefers to have his glove in the game, particularly in the late innings. In this case, Farrell was trying to create some offense in a 2-2 game on the road against a tough Cardinals bullpen.
In this case, it backfired. In retrospect, the Red Sox got a lousy at-bat from Middlebrooks when he hit for Drew — a first-pitch fly out to center.
After Carpenter reached, Craig Breslow hit Carlos Beltran with a pitch, and Junichi Tazawa gave up a two-run double to Matt Holiday.
Bogaerts, who went 2 for 4, tripled to lead off the fifth and scored Boston’s first run. Bogaerts also struck out and hit into an inning-ending double play in the sixth.
In the eighth, he came up against flame-throwing Trevor Rosenthal and reached on a high hopper up the middle to score the tying run.
So what did you do?
Do you move Bogaerts to shortstop and maybe give up some defense? Do you insert Middlebrooks, now 4 for 25 in the playoffs, at third?
And then there’s the intriguing possibility of Napoli playing third, a position he has never played in the big leagues.
He was out on the field before Game 3 for two sessions of infield practice at third as teammate John McDonald stood behind him and coached him, while Brian Butterfield hit him grounder after grounder.
The results were mixed. A few balls clanged off his glove, the backhand was a little shaky, and a couple of balls were overthrown. He also fielded a lot of balls cleanly and made some strong accurate throws.
Butterfield came away saying, “Just in case. He’s OK over there.”
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington wasn’t sure what to make of it and was waiting to hear back from Farrell.
If Napoli plays third then they could have an infield of Ortiz, Pedroia, Bogaerts, and Napoli. Oh my. Yet how bad could it be if the offense produces a lot of runs?
Napoli has adapted to first base in his first full season there and should have earned some Gold Glove consideration. It seems very risky to insert a novice at third base in such an important moment.
Farrell has had the patience of Job when it comes to Drew. He has defended him all along. He has stuck with him and resisted the temptation of inserting his rookie phenom at shortstop. At this point in his career, Bogaerts is an unfinished product defensively.
There are still debates within the Red Sox organization as to what Bogaerts should play. Quite frankly, he can handle both short and third, but he isn’t extraordinary at either.
It is a big decision. It’s bad enough Napoli has to sit because there’s no DH and Ortiz has to play. You’re already giving up defense at first, but Ortiz isn’t that bad.
The advice here is don’t mess around with shortstop. Drew is solid at the position. The one thing we’ve seen from Drew is that as bad as he can look at the plate, he can flip the switch and then go on a tear. In those good times he’s produced some big hits.
So, do you wait around for the switch to be thrown or the switch to be made?
Farrell has been patient this long, why wouldn’t he stick to what he believes in?Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.