Angels Win a Thrilling Game Five, Despite Mike Scioscia's Questionable Calls
Mike Scioscia did his very best to manage his way out of the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The first came when he removed starter John Lackey with two outs in the seventh inning and the bases loaded.
With the Angels up 4-0, lefty Darren Oliver entered the game, forcing Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira to bat from his typically less-productive right side.
He ripped the first pitch he saw for a bases-clearing double.
The Yankees went on to score three more in the inning and take 6-4 lead. Incredibly, their bullpen refused to hold down the Angels, who regained the lead with a three-run inning of their own.
Jered Weaver was masterful in the top of the eighth, going one-two-three to preserve a slim 7-6 lead for the Angels. Efficient with his pitches and dominant in his execution, Weaver was a lock to close out the game in the ninth.
But Scioscia wouldn't have it.
No, Weaver doesn't have a “closer” label next to his name on the roster.
Instead, Sosh brought in Brian Fuentes, the soft-tossing oft-inaccurate closer who has already recorded a blown save in this series, to face the heart of the Yankees' order.
That blown save also came with a one-run lead, and against the best of the Bombers no less.
Fuentes has shown a stunning inability to perform under pressure, despite his league-leading 48 saves during the regular season, and had no business being in this game. Weaver was the easy choice to close out Game Five and send the series back to New York.
To his his credit, Fuentes did get the job done, but not before he sent a few fans with shaky hearts to the hospital.
After getting the first two outs, he intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez, wise move, considering it was A-Rod that belted a game-tying home run off Fuentes in Game Two. He then proceeded to walk Hideki Matsui, hit Robinson Cano, and go 3-2 on Nick Swisher with the bases loaded.
Swish popped up, simultaneously ending the game and getting Scioscia off the hook for his inexplicable managerial blunders.
There was no viable excuse for bring Fuentes into the game, just as there was no excuse for taking Lackey out.
Big John is as tough as starting pitchers come and even when he got into trouble by loading the bases with one out, he still bared down and got Johnny Damon to hit a shallow fly ball out.
Had Scioscia left his ace in the game, Teixeira might have still driven in a run or two, but the idea that Lackey would've given up six runs the way his bullpen did is unthinkable.
The same goes for Weaver staying in to close the game.
Time and again, we fans have had to sit and watch Fuentes put men on base and give up runs with disturbing regularity. His job title might be closer, but it's a dream to imagine him being anything more than a lefty specialist, good for one or two left-handed batters in an inning and that's it.
Weaver mowed down the Yankees in order in the eighth and, being a starter, is perfectly capable of throwing more than one inning.
This should have been his game, whether or not Scioscia will admit it. Unfortunately, the only bad omen about this momentous win is that Sosh will think his moves were justified.
Given the opportunity in Game Six, he will make all of the same mistakes and anyone who thinks differently needs only to look at Game Four of last year's ALDS.
Down two games to one in the first round against the Boston Red Sox, the Angels had a shot to tie up the series when Kendry Morales doubled to lead off the top of the ninth inning.
Knotted up at two runs apiece, Scioscia chose to bunt pinch runner Reggie Willits to third. I wouldn't have, but hey, that's just me.
The problem came when Scioscia tried to bunt again.
Erick Aybar was told to squeeze-bunt the run home, a move that only works when you've caught the opposition off guard, but the Sox were ready for it.
When Willits broke for the plate, Aybar whiffed on the bunt try and Boston catcher Jason Varitek tagged the runner out easily.
Scioscia's move was immediately questioned in the postgame press conference, but the steady-handed manager stuck to his guns and promised that if he had it to again, he'd make the same decision.
It's a nice sentiment, but a foolish error.
Mike Scioscia is widely regarded as one of the game's finest managers. His calm demeanor and sound baseball mind make him the ideal leader in any clubhouse, and the Angels are incredibly lucky to have him.
But, like the Angels themselves, he is not without his flaws.
Over-managing in the dugout is a critical mistake that always—and I repeat, ALWAYS—leads to bad things on the field.
It's one thing to lose to a better team, and I still believe the Yankees are exactly that. It's quite another to lose because your coaching staff can't keep it's hands off the lineup card.
Fortunately, the Halos staved off elimination and forced a Game Six back in New York.
If they want to have a shot at a Game Seven, however, Scioscia has to recognize the difference between meddling and managing, and let his players do what they're paid to do: Play!
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