I am a baseball fan who enjoys a well pitched game, especially shutouts. But I rarely see them because managers won’t let their starters go nine innings.
Case in point. Felix Doubront pitched an absolutely beautiful game for the Red Sox tonight against the Tampa Bay Rays. Usually, Doubront struggles to get through five innings. I think he’s better suited out of the bullpen. But tonight, Doubront was in total command.
In eight innings, Doubront gave up only three hits, struck out six and did not issue a walk. Doubront retired the last 17 batters he faced. In all, he threw 93 pitches and had plenty left to pitch the ninth inning. The Sox had a narrow 1-0 lead on a solo homerun by Daniel Nava.
At the very least, Doubront earned the opportunity at earning the complete game shutout. In 43 big league starts prior to tonight, Doubront had never thrown a complete game.
And he still hasn’t. Sox manager John Farrell had closer Andrew Bailey warming up in the bullpen in the bottom of the 8th. As soon I saw Bailey, I emphatically told my roommate Christopher, “This is not good. Bailey’s gonna blow it.” I felt it in my bones.
Sure enough, Rays outfielder Kelly Johnson promptly took Bailey deep to tie the game at 1-1. Despite pitching the best game of his career, Doubront would not be credited with the win.
At no point, did Sox announcers Don Orsillo or Peter Gammons question the wisdom of Farrell taking Doubront out of the game. That astounded me.
But in the bottom of the ninth, Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes launched a walk off two-run homerun into the Monster Seats to give the Sox a 3-1 victory with Bailey getting a vulture win.
Now everything turned out well for the Red Sox, but I am still annoyed. Under normal circumstances if a team has a one run lead in the ninth, they bring in their closer. But if a pitcher is working on a shutout and is dominating the opposing team there is no reason to take him out. Too many teams are preoccupied with pitch counts. It’s not like Doubront’s arm would have fallen off if he had pitched one more inning.
I understand the Red Sox want to protect their investment, but pitch counts don’t prevent arm injuries. Show me a starting rotation on a pitch limit and I’ll show you an overtaxed bullpen. If there was a night for Farrell to give the bullpen off, tonight was it. In 73 games this season, the Sox have a grand total of two complete games. That’s good enough for 4th place in the American League.
It’s entirely possible that tonight was a turning point for Doubront. He could rattle off a string of wins and perhaps one of those wins will be a complete game shutout. But there are no guarantees in baseball. It is quite possible that Doubront might never have another night like tonight. He might never pitch this great again. To paraphrase Jimmy Webb, the cake might have been left out in the rain and he’ll never have that recipe again.
So here’s my advice to big league managers. If your starter has pitched eight scoreless innings, give him a chance to pitch the in the ninth. Let him try to finish what he started.