By HAL McCOY
Playoff baseball is a different animal and it is glorious. It changes colors like a chameleon. Managers tear up ‘The Book’ and think outside the box.
Chicago Cubs manage Joe Maddon does it all season long — playing four-man infields, using pitchers in the outfield, using his players at several different positions, coming up with slogans and tee-shirts that read, “Try not to suck.”
It is so refreshing and maybe managers will follow Maddon’s lead and become creative instead of doing things the same way game after game after game.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS manager Dave Roberts did it Thursday night in Game 5 of the NLDS and it paid off with a 4-3 victory that sent the Dodgers into the NLCS against the Cubs.
His team led, 4-3, with no outs and a runner on first base in the seventh inning. Chris Heisey had just hit a two-run home run to draw the Nats to within a run and the Washington crowd was in a frenzy.
What did Roberts do? He brought in his closer, Kenley Jansen, a guy who only pitched in save situations in the ninth inning all season long.
Jansen quickly gave up a hit, putting two runners on. Then he retired the next three batters to preserve the one-run lead.
It plays into what I’ve said ever since somebody came up with the closer’s role. The closer is the best relief pitcher a team owns, but managers insist on saving him until the ninth inning and a save is in order.
But the game often hangs by a suture thread in the seventh or eighth inning. So why not bring in your best pitcher? Roberts did it and it worked.
Not only that, Jansen pitched 2 1/3 innings the game. He threw a career-high 51 pitches. When the ninth began, Roberts had starter Clayton Kershaw warming up in the bullpen.
But it got dicey in the bottom of the ninth and more drama. Jansen retired the first batter in the ninth, but then walked Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth.
What did Roberts do? He brought in starter Clayton Kershaw, who started Game 4 just two days ago and threw 110 pitches.
Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop up to second and then he struck out Wilmer Difo.
The Dodgers won three one-run games and Kershaw had two wins and a save.
THE BALTIMORE ORIOLES are sitting at home eating popcorn as they watch the post-season when things might have turned out differently if manager Buck Showalter had climbed out of that box manager’s like to hide in.
Baltimore closer Zach Britton had one of the best season’s a pitcher could have. But when the Orioles played Toronto in the one-and-out American League wild card game, manager Buck Showalter didn’t use him. He waited and waited and waited, like a kid waiting on a school bus, hoping his O’s would get the lead late in the game so Britton could save it.
It never happened. The game went into extra innings and Toronto won it on Edwin Encarnacion’s home run in the 11th inning.
SPEAKING OF EDWIN Encarnacion, isn’t it delightful to see former Cincinnati Reds doing positive things in the post-season?
Chris Heisey, a popular former Reds outfielder, hit a two-run pinch-hit home run for the Nationals Thursday night.
Heisey is the same player for the Nationals that he was for the Reds – an extra outfielder who provides nitroglycerin off the bench, just as he did for the Reds.
Fans were often on manager Dusty Baker’s back when he managed the Reds and didn’t play Heisey regularly. They thought Baker held something against Heisey, that maybe Heisey stole Baker’s expensive wine he was saving for a celebration.
It wasn’t true. Baker often said, “I love Chris Heisey. Nobody plays harder, nobody works harder. But he has his limitations.”
Those limitations were that Heisey was a dead red hitter — he could handle fastballs but breaking pitches were a murder mystery. So Baker picked and chose his spots for Heisey, just as he did Thursday night.
Heisey drilled relief pitcher Grant Dayton’s misplaced fastball into the hands of a fan in the left field seats.
AND BAKER RIPPED a page from San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy’s book. Bochy used five relief pitchers in one inning during his team’s elimination loss to the Chicago Cubs. And Baker used five relief pitchers in the seventh inning when the Dodgers scored four runs.
Baker ended up using seven pitchers and Roberts used six, a typical National League game that makes a scorecard look like a kindergartner’s finger-painting.
UNFORTUNATELY, THE NATS came up a run short, depriving Baker of an opportunity to face the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, the team that fired him. And misguided fans will blame Baker for not being able to win in the postseason.
Yeah, sure, it was his fault the Nats were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners.
It was, though, somewhat surprising that he removed starter Max Scherzer in the seventh inning after he gave up one run and five hits in six innings, Yes, he had thrown 99 pitches, but this was a win or go fishing game and Scherzer is his best.
Playoff baseball. You gotta love it.
WAS READING AN old baseball book while watching the Nats-Dodgers game and saw fans scrambling for a foul ball.
The book talked about how in the 1910s baseball teams wanted foul balls returned and had employees scrambling in the stands to retrieve balls. In 1916, three fans in the Polo Grounds in New York were arrested for larceny when they refused to return foul balls.
The cost of a baseball in 1916 was $2.50. The cost now is almost $20 and teams go through about six dozen a game.
ON SATURDAY I will be at the Miami Valley Centre Mall in Piqua at a memorabilia show selling and signing my book, ‘The Real McCoy,’ from 2:30 to 4:30.