Chess Match: Game 106
Breaking down a key moment in Monday’s 8-6 win over the Yankees…
The situation: The Blue Jays are leading 8-5 and the Yankees have a runner on first base with one out in the sixth inning. Curtis Granderson is in the on-deck circle and Toronto starter Brandon Morrow has reached 99 pitches, showing signs of inconsistent velocity all evening.
The decision: Manager Cito Gaston turned to lefty reliever Scott Downs.
The outcome: Yankees manager Joe Girardi counters by calling upon Marcus Thames as a pinch hitter. Thames gets an odd single, sending a pitch off Downs’ foot and into no-man’s land. Downs stays in, buckles down and gets the two outs he needs to escape unscathed.
The analysis: It seemed like an odd move at first — considering the inning — but this was a case of Gaston realizing this point was critical to secure the win. Downs is his late-inning specialist and protecting a three-run lead was extremely important at this juncture.
Downs had not worked this early in a game since Sept. 12, 2007 and had not pitched in the sixth inning at all since Aug. 2, 2008. That doesn’t matter. This was akin to a save situation and Downs made the most sense.
“You want to win this first game. You have to do everything you can to keep it that way. It just matched up pretty good that way at the time. [Downs] is somebody normally I try to save until the eighth or ninth inning, but tonight it was one of those situations where I just thought it was the right time for him. It worked out pretty good for us.” — Gaston
“Sometimes the game will dictate how things are going to go. They had started putting something together. For some reason, sometimes you have a hunch the way things are going to go. There was a feeling there that I thought maybe [I might come in the game]. So mentally I was ready and I got out of the inning and was able to kind of stop the bleeding.” — Downs
My verdict: Gaston made the right move, especially given the recent performance of lefty David Purcey out of the bullpen. The Jays now have a pair of formidable left-handers who can handle pressure situations late in the game. Gaston went with the more experienced Downs in the sixth and the lefty logged 1 2/3 innings. The manager later turned to Purcey with two men on and two outs in the eighth (Downs’ usual spot) and the first-year reliever delivered a crucial strikeout against pinch-hitter Austin Kearns.