CHICAGO — Nobody buys a ticket to watch managers manage.
So if Major League Baseball is in a charitable mood, refund checks will be in the mail for the 42,000-plus paying customers Saturday night who watched the Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4 in the NL Championship Series opener at Wrigley.
They got their fair share of exciting baseball, to be sure. But considering all the late-game maneuvering between the Cubs’ Joe Maddon and his Dodgers’ counterpart, Dave Roberts, you’d think they were holding the Rosetta Stone instead of lineup cards. And they’re hardly the only ones guilty of overmanaging in this postseason.
For those keeping score at home, Maddon used three relievers in the seventh inning, two more — including regular closer Aroldis Chapman — in the eighth and Hector Rondon to close out the ninth. Roberts used two in the eighth but probably wishes now it had been three, since that third guy, left-hander Grant Dayton, was warming up in the bullpen.
The Dodgers began the eighth with right-hander Joe Blanton, then had him load the bases with two intentional walks, and left him in to face Cubs left-handed pinch-hitter Miguel Montero.
Roberts’ rationale was that Chicago had enough pinch hitters available to get a favorable lefty-righty matchup either way. So he stuck with Blanton.
“It’s more of, I trust Joe,” Roberts said afterward. “I’ve trusted him all year long.”
Montero promptly blew a hole in that vote of confidence by driving a 0-2 pitch from Blanton into the right-field seats for a grand slam.
At this point, it should be noted that the same seat-of-the-pants moves in the NLDS had us lauding Roberts for stealing the deciding game from the Nationals. But it could also be the case that Washington manager Dusty Baker’s decision to go through his own relief corps like tissues was a big contributing factor.
Second-guessing managers, especially guys as savvy as Maddon and Roberts, is usually a waste of time. Unlike Roberts, who is a rookie in the trade, Maddon has been at it for more than 10 years and unorthodox as he’s been at times, he’s got plenty of success to show for it.
The strange thing is that he burned up his bullpen in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Giants, got burned in a 6-5 loss and learned that Chapman, his 100-mph closer, might not be the best option when the Cubs need two innings and six outs instead of just one and three. Then Maddon watched San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy plunder his bullpen the very next night and lose the series to Chicago.
So you’d think the memory of those two games back-to-back less than a week ago would still be fresh. And before the game, that appeared so.
A thin starting rotation and a rash of injuries forced the Dodgers to lean heavily on their bullpen all season long. Considering that, Maddon was asked whether he anticipated having to make more moves to get the matchups he wanted.
“I think you sometimes get caught up in the other side way too much,” he said. “And I don’t want to feed that to our players either.”
Not long after, in response to a question about pressure, Maddon continued the theme.
“I have a different take on things. Today is what, Oct. 15th? I really want to believe our guys are going to treat it like July 15th or Aug. 15th,” he said. “I know I am.”
It turns out Maddon called all his relievers together before the game.
“He said, ‘Everybody in here, be ready for everything,'” recalled Rondon, who pitched the ninth and got the save. “For me, I don’t care about the matchups. I feel like anybody in our bullpen can go lefty-righty. So maybe we learned from the situation tonight and tomorrow, we prepare better.”
The Cubs have seen Maddon pull so many levers so often, they’ll apparently take that on faith.
“I’m never surprised with anything Joe does. He thinks outside the box,” said catcher David Ross, who was behind the plate for all the pitching machinations. “He’s the manager, we’re the players.”
But when somebody relayed Maddon’s remarks about “our guys are going to treat it like July 15th or Aug. 15th,” Ross couldn’t stifle a laugh.
“Saw that happen, didn’t you?” he said.
“There was a lot cat-and-mouse going on that inning,” he added a moment later, “and it paid off for us.”