Commentary

Washington left holding the chalupa

Manager's bullpen management hurts Texas, while Bochy gets everything right

Originally Published: October 28, 2010
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- You know that irritating chalupa commercial with Joe Girardi and Mariano Rivera that has been playing on an almost continuous loop since the postseason started? Here's how it would go if Rangers manager Ron Washington and his closer, Neftali Feliz, were in it instead.

CUSTOMER: Whoah, I don't know if I can eat this entire chalupa.

WASHINGTON: Aw, sure you can. You're a big boy. You can handle it.

CUSTOMER: No, I'm stuffed. Seriously, I couldn't take another bite.

WASHINGTON: I think you still have plenty of room.

CUSTOMER: Actually, I'm bloated and nauseous and almost diarrhetic. Maybe Neftali can finish it up.

FELIZ: Yeah, I could do that. I haven't eaten in days. Let me have it.

WASHINGTON: No, Neftali, I'm saving you for dessert. That chalupa is all his. I don't want you picking up some germs. He started that chalupa, he can finish it. And when he's done, I have a wafer-thin mint for him as well.

[+] EnlargeRon Washington
AP Photo/David J. PhilliRon Washington went to the bullpen four times in the eighth inning, and his pitching moves backfired on him in Game 2.

What a thing. Game 2 of the World Series had been a very close game until Washington apparently fell asleep in the eighth inning despite a four-alarm fire raging in his bullpen. Derek Holland was in the process of walking the world, but Washington didn't have anyone ready to replace him until disaster struck and Texas had walked in the first run of an eventual seven-run inning. The inning and the Rangers' season were unraveling but Washington never even had his best reliever warm up. He said he never considered using Feliz, even though Friday is a travel day and Feliz didn't pitch in Game 1.

Apparently, he was saving Feliz for a really important spot, like Game 1 of the Cactus League schedule.

Now, Washington is a good manager and probably deserves the American League Manager of the Year Award. But this is his first postseason and it shows. In Game 1 of the ALCS, he overreacted during the eighth inning when he used five pitchers, including four different pitchers to throw four pitches. Thursday night he erred to the other extreme, allowing Holland to walk three consecutive batters -- throwing 12 balls and just one strike -- as the game turned from a tight 2-0 nail-biter into the eventual 9-0 blowout.

It's not Washington's fault that Holland was awful and that Mark Lowe was no better. But it is Washington's fault that he wasn't ready to replace them. You simply can't manage like that in the postseason. This isn't a series in the middle of August. This is the World Series. It's a fine line -- you can't panic, but you also have to be ready to respond quickly. And Washington hasn't. When he brought in Holland with two out and one on, he didn't have a second reliever warming up in case the lefty struggled. Holland threw eight balls and walked two batters to load the bases before Washington finally got someone up.

[+] EnlargeBruce Bochy
Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesFrom his bullpen to his lineup and his defensive replacements, Bruce Bochy has pushed all of the right buttons for the Giants.

It was a telling moment. The Rangers' season was heading toward the cliff, but the only bullpen stirring was San Francisco's. That's because Bruce Bochy, managing his second World Series and fifth postseason, got a second reliever up alongside Brian Wilson just in case the Giants scored a bunch of runs and his closer wasn't needed in the ninth inning.

"It shows he's on the spot, right on time, all the time,'' Wilson said. "He knows what he's doing. He's a classy manager. Bobby Cox praised his work. And he's been nailing it all year long. With the bullpen. With the lineup. Pinch-hitters. He just knows what he's doing. He knows his opponent. He knows it's the World Series and you can't let anything get out of hand, and of course, he's going to have two pitchers in his arsenal out there ready to go in at any moment.''

Bochy's moves certainly are clicking. He inserted Nate Schierholtz into the outfield as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning, and Schierholtz immediately chased down a long fly into the gap. He replaced Matt Cain, who had been nearly unhittable, with lefty Javier Lopez to face lefty Josh Hamilton in the top of the eighth inning with a runner in scoring position, and Lopez retired Hamilton for the third out.

He also made a revealing minor move that was virtually lost amid the circus that was the bottom of the eighth. With the Giants leading 6-0 and two runners on, Bochy announced left-hitting Mike Fontenot as a pinch-hitter against the right-handed Lowe. When Washington brought in lefty Michael Kirkman, Bochy subbed right-handed-hitting Aaron Rowand, who tripled home two runs.

"It showed he was going to match it up as if it was a two-run game,'' San Francisco's Mark DeRosa said. "He reminds me of Bobby Cox. He's a man of few words but when he speaks you better listen to him. And he has a lot of trust in his guys. He lets us play. The thing I'll say about this year is we've been like a 30-man roster and he's played the hot hand. He's played to win. And that's all you can ask.''

"When they get in there and do well, I feel great for them because it's not easy for some of these guys who aren't getting playing time on a consistent basis,'' Bochy said. "I just feel good that they're going out there and doing something to help contribute. It's a credit to them.''

That's a big part of it. The manager can make all the right moves, but unless the players come through it doesn't matter. But they have no chance unless the manager puts them in, or at the very least, has them ready to go in just in case someone else starts failing or looks queasy from eating too much chalupa.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com