Well, apparently we needed a goat for the Phillies' loss in Game 4. And the first place to look is usually the manager ...
- As it turned out, Charlie Manuel's mistake wasn't putting his faith in Joe Blanton for Game 4. It was losing faith in Blanton too early.
Yanking Blanton in the fifth inning, when he still had the lead, set in motion a chain of events that ended with Roy Oswalt gamely trying, and failing, to pitch in an unfamiliar role.
We'll never know what would have happened, if they had started Roy Halladay on short rest. Manuel's gamble was that Blanton would turn in a decent start, the offense would score a few runs off rookie Madison Bumgarner, and the series would be tied.
And that's just what was happening until Manuel walked to the mound with two out in the bottom of the fifth inning. Let's be clear. No one is suggesting Blanton is any more than what he is, a good major league pitcher. He does not have the stellar array of pitches that Halladay, Oswalt and Cole Hamels use to dazzle hitters. He is not a shutout waiting to happen.
But Manuel and Dubee decided to give him the ball in the biggest game of the postseason so far. If that was the right call, then logic dictates they needed to go all in with Blanton. If he was good enough to deserve this start, he was good enough to finish the fifth and then go an inning or two more.
Well, OK. But couldn't almost exactly the same be said about Madison Bumgarner?
Bumgarner pitched a lot better than Blanton during the season. In fact, Bumgarner's ERA this season was lower than Tim Lincecum's and his strikeout-to-walk ratio was higher. Purely in terms of performance in 2010, you could almost argue that Bumgarner was the Giants' best starter rather than their No. 4 (technically, he was actually their No. 5 starter during the season, but is now No. 4).
Bumgarner shut the Phillies out through the first four innings, striking out six. Granted, he did run into a little trouble in the fourth, and by the fifth inning his pitch count was already running pretty high. With the bottom of the Phillies' order, though, Bruce Bochy had reasons for optimism.
So much for optimism. Ben Francisco singled. Carlos Ruiz singled. Joe Blanton bunted and very nearly beat the throw to first. Shane Victorino singled; Francisco scored, but Ruiz was out at home after a perfect peg from Aaron Rowand. Chase Utley singled.
Four hits sandwiched around a sacrifice will get the manager's attention. Bumgarner had thrown 85 pitches with his left arm (including 17 in the inning), and right-handed-hitting Placido Polanco was up next.
Bochy yanked Bumgarner. The Giants still led 2-1. But after Santiago Casilla gave up a double and threw a wild pitch, the Giants trailed 4-2.
After Santiago uncorked that wild pitch, he struck out Jimmy Rollins. But what if Rollins had blooped a little single into center field? Two more runs would have scored. The Giants would have been down 6-2, and they quite probably would have wound up losing the game.
The Giants won, so Casilla gets a free pass. As does Bochy. As I have written elsewhere, I think Bochy probably outmanaged Manuel in Game 4 and I think Bochy has generally been making the better moves throughout this postseason (which isn't to say I think he's been perfect).
The Giants didn't have to win last night, though. And if they'd lost, I'm wondering what the analysis would look like today.