With the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics tied at two headed to the bottom of the ninth, manager John Farrell elected to go to his closer–on the road.
Typically in a tie game, the visiting manager will save his closer until his team takes a lead. Not our boy John Farrell. With the Boston Red Sox got off to a 21-19 start to their season entering play on Friday night, and having already suffered a loss at the hands the the supposedly terrible A’s, Farrell decided he wanted to make sure that last night’s contest made it to extra innings. To that point, he succeeded.
Farrell brought his closer, Craig Kimbrel, and his ridiculous 16.88 K/9 rate into a tie game in Oakland on Bay Area Hip Hop Fireworks Night at the Coliseum. He struck out Khris Davis on three pitches, got Trevor Plouffe to line out to Mookie Betts and allowed Jackie Bradley Jr. to show off his hips and hops on a game-saving home run rob job. It took Kimbrel ten pitches to escape the inning unscathed.
With Kimbrel having tossed 21 pitches since Sunday, he was obviously going to be left in, right? Nope.
Instead, Farrell again went to his bullpen and this time it was Heath Hembree, who has been a relatively average pitcher so far this season. When he entered, he had an 0-1 record and a 3.86 ERA in twenty appearances spanning 21 innings. He left with an 0-2 record and a 4.29 ERA after allowing a leadoff homer to former Rule 5 pick, Mark Canha.
Canha is no slouch. He had already collected two hits in three at-bats against Chris Saleearlier in the game. With his third hit of the night, he finished 3-for-4 with a homer, a double and a triple. It’s not too often that a player finishes a single away from the cycle, leading A’s manager Bob Melvinto say post-game “He’s not much for singles.” But I digress.
The Oakland announcers (Ray Fosse and Glen Kuiper) pondered if Farrell’s move was because the A’s had the bottom of their order due up in the tenth, if things got that far, and if the Boston manager was thinking that his bullpen could handle those guys while his best weapon faced off against Oakland’s most fearsome threat in Davis. Could be.
According to Sox beat writer Evan Drellich, Farrell said after the game that Kimbrel having pitched in three of the last four games played into his decision to not send him out for the tenth as did the break between innings.
Granted, this is a game in the middle of May against a team that isn’t expected to contend. The Sox have too much talent (with more on the way back from the DL) to keep up at their current pace. This decision by itself doesn’t mean much, but if he made a similar call, say, in October, then that’s when fans will really be cursing.