Game 22: Nationals (10-10) @ Pirates (9-12)
So let us revisit Sunday for a few minutes before we look ahead to tonight’s makeup game since manager Clint Hurdle took some time to do so this afternoon.
I just can’t shake Hurdle’s response on Sunday afternoon when he was asked if it was smart to have Andrew McCutchen try to score on a sacrifice fly with two out in the ninth. For those of you who were off enjoying your Easter and not in front of the television… the context was this: McCutchen was on third with one out and the Pirates trailing, 6-3. Jose Tabata lifted a fly ball to middle right field. Jayson Werth camped under it for out No. 2. McCutchen tagged, took off for home and was tagged out on Werth’s terrific throw. Game over. With Lyle Overbay on-deck and Neil Walker waiting behind him.
The key to this situation is the club was down by three runs. With two outs. In the ninth.
I thought it was plenty appropriate to ask why McCutchen would run in that situation, so the first question I directed at Hurdle was — “Given that you were down by three runs, would you have preferred that McCutchen stay on third in that situation?”
Hurdle’s response: “No.”
Hurdle then began his defense: “The only reason we’re asked that question is because he’s out. I bet everybody in the ballpark, including you, thought we were going to send him.”
Actually, I didn’t think McCutchen would be sent. But I thought it might be rude to mention that in a press conference.
More from Hurdle: “You never want to make the last out at home, but sometimes those things are going to happen. It’s not a perfect world. It’s not a perfect game. Our mentality is to play aggressive. That’s going to win us more games. We get one there, who knows where it takes us. We’re going to send that guy.”
I’m still entirely unconvinced. McCutchen’s run in that situation means so little. He should not take off for home unless he is 100 percent — no, 150 percent — positive he is going to be safe. I agree that 9 times out of 10 that fly ball scores McCutchen. I’d advocate for him to run in that situation in innings one through eight. I’d advocate for him to run in the ninth if the team is down by one. But not when the club was going to need at least two more hitters to come to the plate for the chance to tie the game.
Hurdle’s final comment on the play: “Look what kind of throw it took. There are probably two guys in the league that can make that throw. He’s one of them.”
Hurdle is absolutely correct. But since it’s obviously no secret that Werth has a heck of an arm, isn’t that even more reason not to try and run on him?
I never got the impression Hurdle was giving these answers in an effort not to call out third base coach Nick Leyva or McCutchen for the decision to run. He firmly agrees with it. And he backed that up with what he said on Monday.
“It’s about doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason. And I do believe all of those were in place. We got the wrong outcome. … I expected him to go. I would have been more shocked if he wouldn’t have gone. I don’t ever want to wonder if he would have been safe.
“We’re not a conventional team. Things happen within this game that are instinctive and impulsive. Yes, in hindsight, when it’s 30 seconds later, that shouldn’t have happened. But in the heat of the moment with adrenaline fueling and excitement and an aggressive mentality…
“I think now we have a better yard mark on when we go and when we don’t go as far as distance into right field. Was it a gamble? Absolutely. Did it not work out? Absolutely. Am I happy with the aggressive mentality? Absolutely.”
For the record, Leyva told me on Monday that he told McCutchen to run: “It’s very easy to say that wasn’t the right situation, but I thought he could make it. It’s a judgement call. They don’t give you a do-over. He’s probably the fastest guy on the team. I thought the ball carried far enough. I know Werth’s got as good as arm as anybody. I know [Rick] Ankiel has as good an arm as anybody. If I didn’t think he could make it, I wouldn’t have sent him.”
And with that, we turn the page to Monday’s news and notes…
- Lyle Overbay and Pedro Alvarez are out of the lineup, with Steve Pearce and Brandon Wood taking their places. Hurdle said he wanted to get Overbay a day off simply because the first baseman has started every game of the season so far. Hurdle also wanted Wood to get some playing time and figured sitting Alvarez against a lefty could be a good idea.
- Sitting Overbay and Alvarez also loads the lineup with right-handed hitters. Nationals pitcher John Lannan is allowing righties to hit .360 against him this season. Left-handed hitters are batting .167. Lannan’s career splits aren’t so drastic, however (.273 batting average for right-handed hitters; .272 mark for left-handed ones).
- A number of Pirates players have had success against Lannan, led by Matt Diaz (11-for-22)
- Evan Meek is still sick. It’s a viral thing, he says, but the guy has been under the weather for weeks now. Not that it’s going to stop him from pitching.
PIRATES: A. McCutchen (CF), J. Tabata (LF), M. Diaz (RF), N. Walker (2B), S. Pearce (1B), B. Wood (3B), C. Snyder (C), R. Cedeno (SS), P. Maholm (LHP)
NATIONALS: D. Espinosa (2B), I. Desmond (SS), J. Werth (RF), A. LaRoche (1B), M. Morse (LF), W. Ramos (C), J. Hairston (CF), B. Bixler (3B), J. Lannan (LHP)
Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB