There's no shame in getting shut down by Daisuke Matsuzaka. There's no shame in losing to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Heck, there's simply no shame in losing when you've won 18 or your last 21 games. It was the manner in which the Twins lost last night that really got under my skin.
After getting seven fantastic shutout innings from Scott Baker, Ron Gardenhire was hit with a dilemma in the eighth inning. The game was still scoreless, and the Red Sox had their Nos. 2, 3 and 4 hitters due up. Gardenhire has generally done a good job of managing the bullpen this season and over the course of his tenure, but I can say without hyperbole that what he did last night was the single worse managerial decision he has made all year. He called on Brian Bass to pitch the eighth inning of a scoreless game. Bass, who should be the very definition of a mop-up man, was Gardenhire's first choice out of the bullpen in the eighth inning of a tie game against a very powerful lineup.
Bass surrendered a leadoff double to Dustin Pedroia, who moved to third on a ground-out by J.D. Drew in the next at-bat. Next, Manny Ramirez hit a single to right field, scoring Pedroia with the go-ahead run. Mike Lowell walked in the next at-bat, and that was the end of Bass' night. Great outing.
Let's take a look at some of the clearly superior options to Bass in this situation, followed by reasons as to why they are superior:
Leave Baker in. Baker's pitch count was only 94, and he had allowed only two of the past 13 batters he'd faced to reach base. He reportedly told Gardenhire he was gassed after seven innings, but if push came to shove he probably could have gone out for the eighth.
Jesse Crain. Had not pitched since last Wednesday, and he held a 2.80 ERA on the season. Crain came in after Bass had allowed three of four baserunners to reach and finished the inning without further damage. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Mind-boggling that Crain was not simply called upon to start the inning if Gardy intended on using him anyway.
Boof Bonser. Granted, his numbers overall this season aren't good, and he got off to a bit of a rocky start in the bullpen, but over his past four outings he'd pitched five innings while allowing only one run on four hits and a walk while fanning seven. He also has good enough stuff that one could logically believe he'd be able to retire tough hitters like Pedroia and Ramirez.
Joe Nathan. He's the team's best reliever, why not use him as early as possible to make sure you can extend the game? I've always been an ardent supporter of the notion of using relievers based on descending order of talent in a tie game.
Craig Breslow. Has been effective enough against right-handers this year that we can reasonably believe he could have retired Pedroia, and then he would have gotten the left-handed Drew. Bing bang, two outs.
Dennys Reyes. Is not Brian Bass.
The only guy who really wasn't an option was Matt Guerrier, who'd pitch in three consecutive games over the weekend. Yet, instead of one of the aforementioned logical options, Gardenhire decided to call on Bass as his top option out of the bullpen. Predictably, the results were ugly. Even still, Gardenhire compounded the poor choice of putting Bass in the game by making another misguided managerial decision, which was to have Bass pitch to Ramirez with Pedroia on third and one out.
Ramirez is one of the great RBI men in modern major-league history. And if there's one thing Bass has done a decent job of this year, it's inducing ground balls. So the logical choice with the go-ahead run on third while Ramirez batted with first base open would have been to intentionally walk Ramirez and pitch to Mike Lowell with hopes of a double play. Instead, Gardenhire had Bass pitch to Ramirez, and the result was an eventually game-winning RBI hit.
Here was Gardenhire's reasoning for pitching to Ramirez:
"How's Manny been doing lately?" Gardenhire said.
Ramirez had batted .161 (5-for-31) with 13 strikeouts on Boston's just-completed 3-7 road trip.
This response represents a fatal misconception held by Gardenhire, which is that 31 at-bats represents any type of meaningful sample.