Commentary

Melvin stays with Owings, and pays for it

Originally Published: October 15, 2007
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

DENVER -- The fickle nature of baseball dictates that often an inning, a game, a series can hinge on one manager's decision to leave a pitcher in a game while the other manager decides to take his pitcher out.

NLCS

Rockies-Diamondbacks
series page

Only now does it appear logical that Arizona manager Bob Melvin should have taken starter Micah Owings out of Monday night's game in the fourth inning -- before Owings allowed a game-deciding, three-run home run to Rockies slugger Matt Holliday that bounced into the bushes beyond the center-field fence at Coors Field.

Only now does it appear logical that Colorado manager Clint Hurdle should have pinch hit for starter Franklin Morales, who had allowed only one run and thrown just 64 pitches, in that fateful fourth inning that ostensibly sent the Rockies to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Holliday's homer propelled Colorado to a 6-4 victory in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series and clinched a series sweep of the Diamondbacks.

Certainly neither of these managers could have scripted such a fourth inning. If they had the power of foresight, then Hurdle likely wouldn't have been soaking in champagne in his team's clubhouse, standing simply in socks and beaming from ear to ear. And Melvin wouldn't have been sullen in his quiet clubhouse, standing in full uniform, his hands inside his red jacket, with a halfhearted attempt at a slim smile.

Seth Smith
Harry How/Getty ImagesSeth Smith dropped a double down the left field line that put the Rockies ahead to stay.

"In hindsight, would I go get him? Yeah, I would," Melvin said of Owings.

Almost from the moment Owings struck out on a high fastball against Morales to end the top of the fourth inning, Hurdle, Rockies bench coach Jamie Quirk and pitching coach Bob Apodaca gathered in the Colorado dugout and sought to examine all the possibilities the bottom half of the inning could bring. Though the inning started with No. 5 hitter Garrett Atkins, the three coaches began to consider the possibility of hitting for Morales if a scoring opportunity arose.

"We had to take a shot," Quirk said. "Our bullpen has been so great."

Hurdle acknowledged his coach's advice and told his men, "Let's go."

With one phone call, reliever Matt Herges began to warm up in the bullpen.

In the dugout, rookie Seth Smith, whose call-up from Triple-A Colorado Springs coincided with the Rockies' record run through the playoffs, began to stir. Smith had seen Herges warming up, so he knew as a left-handed hitter he could be summoned to hit against the right-handed Owings.

Atkins lined out to second to start the inning, but then Owings walked Brad Hawpe and Troy Tulowitzki. Yorvit Torrealba followed with a slow grounder toward the right side of the field. Owings pounced from the mound, dove and threw to first base to record the second out. But Owings stayed on the ground for several moments and appeared hurt.

"It just knocked the breath out of me," Owings said. "I landed mostly on my upper half."

Melvin came out to check on his starter but decided to leave him in the game. This was perhaps Melvin's first mistake. As soon as Owings returned to the mound, Hurdle, in his gravelly voice, summoned Smith from the bench. With that move, Morales, the young starter, was out of the game.

"I wanted to try to get a lead before they got to their bullpen," Hurdle said. "I didn't think Owings was going to go much more than five innings."

Conor Jackson
Harry How/Getty ImagesConor Jackson's error prolonged the fourth inning and led to four unearned runs.

Said Quirk: "It was a gutsy call, but we have so much faith in our bullpen."

On a 1-2 pitch, Smith flared a ball down the left-field line for a double that scored both Hawpe and Tulowitzki, which gave the Rockies a 2-1 lead.

"I hit [the ball] with a piece of the barrel, just enough of it," Smith said.

Such a bloop and timely hit had been common for the Rockies in this series. Melvin had seen enough of them.

"The Smith hit was so hard to stomach," he said. "Micah made every pitch in that at-bat and then saws him off."

Perhaps at this point it would have been wise to take out Owings. The game had turned so quickly. But Melvin, confident that Owings still had something left, allowed his starter to face Willy Taveras. And really, the inning should have ended with that at-bat because Taveras grounded a ball to first base that bounced off Conor Jackson's chest for an error.

"It was a routine grounder and I kicked it," Jackson said. "It cost us four runs and that was pretty much the ballgame."

Owings stood behind the mound for several moments to regain his composure. Surely, Melvin would make a switch now. Instead, Owings faced Kazuo Matsui. The first pitch, a fastball, landed on the outside corner for a strike. For the second pitch, Owings went back to the same spot, but this time Matsui lined it to center field for a run-scoring single, giving the Rockies a 3-1 lead.

"I hit my spot," Owings lamented.

Now would come the pitching change, of course. But it never came. Instead, Melvin allowed Owings to face Holliday.

"I thought he had earned the right [to stay in the game]," Melvin said. "The only ball they had squared up was Matsui's."

On the third pitch of the at-bat, on a slider, Holliday gave the Rockies a 6-1 lead with his three-run homer. The game was, for the most part, over on that at-bat. A game, an inning, a series had turned on the two managers' decisions.

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

ALSO SEE