Baseball is a game where any one of several strategies or managerial decisions could mean the difference in a ballgame. On occasion, especially in the closest and most meaningful games, the losing manager's decision-making can come into question.
While the wild ending to Saturday's 5-4 Game 3 victory by the Cardinals will overshadow anything else that happened during the game, Red Sox manager John Farrell made a handful of questionable moves and non-moves that may have put his team in a position to lose on the first-ever walk-off obstruction call.
Let's take a closer look at four particular decisions that could have affected the outcome of the game.
After a shaky first inning in which he allowed two runs on four hits, Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy settled in and shut out the Cardinals over the next three innings. But with his team trailing 2-0 in the top of the fifth inning, he was removed for a pinch hitter with runners at the corners and one out.
The move paid immediate dividends as Mike Carp drove in the team's first run on a fielder's choice, but Farrell had to turn the ball over to his bullpen in the fifth inning. See decision No. 3 for why this move backfired.
With the game tied at two in the top of the seventh inning, Farrell pinch hit right-hander Will Middlebrooks for slumping shortstop Stephen Drew with one out and none on versus Cardinals lefty Kevin Siegrist.
Middlebrooks flied out, and Siegrist went on to pitch a perfect one-two-three inning. As a result of the lineup change, Middlebrooks entered the game at third base, while Xander Bogaerts slid over to shortstop.
Although the move to go with Middlebrooks, a solid defender at the hot corner, shouldn't be second-guessed, the result might have been costly.
On two of the biggest plays of the game—Matt Holliday's two-run double to put the Cards ahead 4-2 in the seventh inning and the wild throw by Jarrod Saltalamacchia that ended with the walk-off obstruction call—Middlebrooks' lack of athleticism could be to blame.
The 25-year-old made a late break on Holliday's hard grounder, and the ball was just out of his reach on a dive. The same occurred on the Saltalamacchia throw. To add insult to injury, Middlebrooks was called for obstruction after he impeded Allen Craig's progress to run home.
If it were the 21-year-old Bogaerts—playing third base in a close game without much experience at the position—who couldn't make a play that some believed was catchable, Farrell would have been criticized heavily. But in this case, the more athletic Bogaerts might have had a much better chance to catch either ball.
Allowing rookie Brandon Workman to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning in a 4-4 game wasn't the worst decision in the world. After all, the 25-year-old hadn't allowed a run in 6.1 postseason innings.
But he probably wouldn't have been Farrell's top choice with the game on the line. He didn't have much of a choice, however, as three relievers had already been used since Peavy was removed for a pinch hitter after four innings.
After Workman (pictured) pitched a scoreless inning, Farrell allowed him to hit against Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal so he can return for another inning of work. As would be expected, Workman struck out for the second out of an eventual one-two-three inning while Mike Napoli stayed on the bench.
Farrell's explanation makes sense considering that he probably didn't want to use closer Koji Uehara unless his team had the lead. Further, his other two remaining relievers, Ryan Dempster and Franklin Morales, would possibly be needed to pitch multiple innings on Sunday if Clay Buchholz continued to have issues with his shoulder.
But this would have also been a good reason to keep Peavy in the game longer than four innings.
Another option, one that Farrell admitted he should have gone with, would have been to double-switch David Ross in the game when Workman entered.
Farrell admitted he should have double switched Salty out after the 8th inning. Letting Workman hit was a mistake.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) October 27, 2013
In all likelihood, Ross wouldn't have had much of a chance against Rosenthal either, but he would have had a better shot than Workman, who had almost zero.
The final play of the game may have been a bit fluky, but it wouldn't have happened at all had Farrell opted to intentionally walk lefty Jon Jay to go after the light-hitting Pete Kozma with the bases loaded. Sure, Jay did not exactly win the game with his bat. He merely put the ball in play, and the Sox did the damage on the field.
But it took an amazing stop by Dustin Pedroia or else Jay would have been the hero, and there would be no controversy. Kozma, who is 5-for-33 in the playoffs, would have had a tough time squaring up against Uehara.
And even if Kozma didn't hit into a double play, the chances of him striking out or not hitting the ball out of the infield were strong. On deck was rookie Kolten Wong, who would have also had his hands full facing Uehara for the first time.
I'm guessing that most managers would prefer to face Kozma and Wong in that situation.
We'll never know if the outcome would result in the Red Sox's favor had Farrell chose to leave Peavy in the game past four innings or had he left Bogaerts at third base or had he pinch-hit Napoli for Workman or had he intentionally walked Jay.
But if the Red Sox don't win the World Series, I'm guessing this isn't the last time any of those moves will be questioned.