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.

The comments:

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.


1 Comment

We kind of expect those things from Downs by now, but Purcey sure didn’t look out of place in the 8th did he? Cool as a cuke.

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