Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Series is on-the-job learning for Farrell
AS THE World Series headed from Boston to St. Louis, and from the American League to the National League, conventional wisdom suggested the loss of the designated hitter would be the biggest disadvantage the Red Sox would face by being forced to play under a different set of rules than they had all season.
Losing Mike Napoli from the middle of a lineup that had been struggling for a couple of weeks was seen as significant. So was adding a pitcher to the bottom of that scuffling order.
But nowhere has the transition to the NL style of play seemed to hurt the Sox more than it has in the dugout — where John Farrell has seemed to struggle with the faster speed at which the game changes, after making a couple of debatable decisions before the series even moved to the Midwest.
Since he was drafted in 1980, Farrell has never been affiliated with a National League organization in all his years of pro ball, and as a third-year manager, this run marks his first experience as the point man in the postseason.
So after designing strategies based on one set of rules throughout the six-month season, then formulating a playoff approach around that same system, it's understandable that especially after a baseball life built under different circumstances his in-game decisions and adaptations wouldn't be perfect.
But they've got to be better than they were over the early part of this series — particularly given how evenly matched these two teams are, and how little margin for error his team has generally left itself over the course of this postseason, when going into Sunday six of 13 games had been decided by one run, including three of its five losses.
In this series, Farrell's decisions first came into question when he opted to stick with Jonny Gomes over Daniel Nava in left field, and offered no tangible reason why he'd go against what the numbers said should've happened. At least his decision to stick with Stephen Drew can be justified by his defense at a premium position (SS), at least his choice to start Jarrod Saltalmacchia in Games 2 and 3 was consistent with his season-long approach, and at least he's been able to explain his in-game maneuvering in a reasonable manner.
Even Saturday, he might've made some decisions ripe for second-guessing, but there was some measure of logic behind them. He pinch-hit for Drew in the seventh inning, forgoing defense despite the tie score, but Drew has been such a liability at the plate that Farrell didn't want to waste the at-bat.
He pinch-hit for pitcher Felix Doubront that same inning, although the lefty was cruising in relief, but by pulling him then, after 25 pitches, Farrell kept him available for Game 4. "So to say that we should have left him in," he said Sunday, "I'm not revisiting that one."
He kept Napoli on the bench in favor of three other hitters, but it could be argued that it's better to save his best bench bat for a moment when he can stay in the game, maybe get another at-bat but at least take over for Ortiz at first base defensively.
What was inexcusable, though, was his handling of the ninth inning — when the inconsistency in his strategy suggested that he'd let the situation get away from him.
With Game 3 tied going to the ninth inning, and reliever Brandon Workman due up second, the easy and obvious choice was to execute a double-switch. The opportunity was convenient as they come, too, with Saltalamacchia having made the final out of the eighth, and backup catcher David Ross waiting on the bench.
All Farrell would've had to do was hit Ross for Workman, then sub a new pitcher into Saltalamacchia's spot. The pitcher's place in the order wouldn't have come up again for another inning or two, and in the meantime the Sox would've had a superior defensive catcher and their best reliever on the field with the game on the line.
The only excuse not to make that move was if he wanted to save Koji Uehara for a save situation. But after Workman got one out and gave up a single in the ninth, Uehara was summoned to the mound.
"I looked at that last two relievers situation, between Workman and Uehara, combining to give us three innings of work, and I wasn't willing to let Koji go out there for two full innings. I felt like we needed three innings combined out of those two," Farrell said Sunday. "And how we got there, unfortunately, was with Workman at the plate."
It never even had to get to that point, though. If that was in fact, Farrell's plan for relievers all along, he could've inserted Ross for Saltalamacchia immediately after the catcher made the last out in the eighth, and made the double-switch then. That would've allowed Workman to stay on the mound with no problem.
That Farrell and his coaches didn't recognize that initially, then compounded it by failing to fix it when given a second chance, speaks to how dizzied they were by a rapidly evolving situation. Under NL rules, managers become more important as the benches empty and the bullpens wither, and Farrell was hopeful his staff's first playoff experience under that pressure taught them something.
"You replay it in your mind," he said. "And you learn from the experiences you go through."
And for the Red Sox' sake, he'd better be a fast learner.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.