I’ve always been fascinated by decision-making. In specific situations, I like thinking about “Well, what if ‘X’ had/had not happened? How would this have turned out differently?” You know, like in the “Back to the Future” movies or even “It’s a Wonderful Life.” One of my favorite poems ever is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This poem is about how your life choices take you down a road and you can always wonder how things might have gone if you had taken the other one. What if DrLefty had married her first college boyfriend instead of MrLefty? What if she’d jumped ship from Sac State when the University of Alabama wanted to hire her? Shudderrrrrrr.
Anyway, this past week and especially last night’s game have made me think about decision-making and how seemingly small moments can have a huge impact, especially during a nerve-wracking pennant race that seems destined to come down to the wire. So humor me while I explore this a bit. On this list, I’m coding decisions that I think had a negative impact with bold italics and those that had a positive impact in bold.
- Using Dom Leone as an opener twice in three games against the Padres (or the same team, whoever they are). Let’s just get this out of the way. The bullpen game/Leone as opener thing worked spectacularly well–until it didn’t. It’s not a knock on the opener as a concept or on Leone himself. Rather, it acknowledges that when you’re in the middle of a four-game series, it’s not a good idea to let your opponent get too comfortable. That decision led to the end of the Giants’ nine-game winning streak and began a 48-hour slide in which the Giants’ 2.5 game lead over the Dodgers shrunk to 1 game.
- Keeping Steven Duggar on the roster instead of activating Alex Dickerson. Dickerson has been playing rehab games in AAA Sacramento for the past week and is 5 for 27 (.185). He was not exactly setting the world on fire in the majors before his injury. Still, it wouldn’t have been that shocking if the Giants had sent Duggar back to AAA in favor of Dickerson. They’ve done it once already this season. They made the opposite decision this week by sending Thairo Estrada back to AAA and activating Donovan Solano. (More on Duggar and Solano as we go along.) I feel bad for Dickerson, but right now you need the best available choice for every single roster spot.
- Sending Tyler Rogers out to close in the ninth. Leone had thrown only eight pitches in the top of the eighth and looked dominant doing it. They had double-switched Ruf out of the game so that Leone’s spot wouldn’t come up in the bottom of the eighth. When I saw that, I thought for sure that Leone was getting the ninth, and I was mentally tipping my cap for the creative thinking in the dugout. Instead, to my chagrin, Gabe Kapler and his coaches made the old-school, traditional move (“our eighth-inning guy becomes our ninth-inning guy”), and it backfired big time. This is not a “we hate Tyler Rogers” moment. We should love Tyler Rogers. He’s been fantastic and one of the best relievers in baseball this year. He should have been an All-Star like his twin brother. But Rogers has been brilliant in the eighth inning and bad in the ninth inning this year. When the staff got the news that Jake McGee had to go on the injured list, they should have been mapping out ninth-inning options that were not Tyler Rogers. (I’ll go on the record as saying I think this is an opportunity to see how Camilo Doval can do.)
- Putting Duggar into CF for defense late in the game. Duggar was inserted before the top of the tenth inning. With two outs and a runner on second, Freddie Freeman sent a ball deep to left-center. I’m not sure anyone on the roster other than Duggar makes that catch. Given that the Giants managed to avoid scoring in the bottom of the tenth, that decision saved the game.
- Running out of hitters before the bottom of the eleventh. I actually appreciate the aggressive way Kapler manages games, and this isn’t the first time he’s run out of players in extra innings. Remember how Logan Webb was going to have to play left field a couple of weeks ago when Dickerson got hurt late in the game? But with no one on the bench, the Braves were clearly going to manipulate the inning to where the pitcher’s spot had to come up with the game on the line, and that’s what they did. Bummer. (Ha ha, not really. Kevin Gausman with the walk-off RBI is one of the cooler things I’ve ever seen in a game, and I just hope they didn’t hurt him in the scrum. You know who else thought it was the coolest thing ever? Kevin Gausman. He compared it to the births of his two children.)
- Asking Donovan Solano to pinch-hit with the game on the line. After Rogers’ meltdown, the Giants were one out away from the most disheartening, damaging loss of the season. They HAD to win that game, and they were about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And with two outs and nobody on, who’s left?–a guy who just this minute returned to the roster after a bout with COVID? Yeeeeesh. If you’d told me Darin Ruf was pinch-hitting or Wilmer Flores or even Dickerson (had he been there), I would have been thinking “dramatic game-tying homer.” I was not thinking that when Solano came up. And with great flair for the narrative, he hit it exactly to the spot that Michael Morse hit his game-tying pinch-hit homer in the 2014 NLCS, the one right before Travis Ishikawa hit the walk-off to win the pennant. The difference, though, is that Morse was a slugger. Solano is not. And yet. That’s more of a “magic pixie dust” moment than a “brilliant decision” moment, but whatever. We’ll take it.
- Not sending Brandon Crawford on Duggar’s fly ball to left. In the bottom of the 11th, Crawford was the runner who started the inning on 2B. An errant pick-off throw put him on third with no one out. The Braves then walked Evan Longoria to get to Duggar. After grinding out an AB, Duggar sent a fly ball to medium-deep LF. Eddie Rosario, along with Adam Duvall in CF, was described by Mike Krukow as having one of the “two best arms in the outfield.” So 3B coach Ron Wotus played it safe and did not send Crawford with just one out. As it happened, the throw was offline and Crawford likely would have scored. This decision allowed the Braves to walk Solano to load the bases, knowing that the pitcher’s spot was coming next and the Giants didn’t have any more position players available (see point 5 above). As we know, it all worked out, and Crawford scoring on Gausman’s sacrifice fly (hit to Joc Pederson, who was not described by Krukow as having a good arm) was way cooler than him scoring on Duggar’s sac fly (except maybe for Duggar).
- Letting Will Smith walk after the 2019 season. OK, we all loved Will Smith, who will always be known as the very last guy to receive the Willie Mac Award from the hands of Willie McCovey himself. He was an All-Star for the Giants in 2019. But last night, he was our hero in that he blew the save for the Braves by giving up Solano’s homer. I still kind of wish he was the Giants’ closer, but I’m glad he was on the Braves last night.
- Trading Duvall for Mike Leake in 2015. As the years go by, it’s evident that this was one of the worst moves of the Bobby Evans regime. (Trading Bryan Reynolds away to rent Andrew McCutchen still seems worse at this point, but we’ll see.) Duvall drove in two first-inning runs off Logan Webb last night. He is leading the NL in RBIs. On the broadcast, Krukow immediately made a connection to Sal Bando, and Jon Miller instantly got the analogy, and that was a brilliant riff between the two of them. (Bando was a low-batting-average/high-RBI guy for the early 70s Oakland A’s, and Miller started his broadcasting career there.) Duvall hits for power, has a great batting average with runners in scoring position, and is a tremendous defensive outfielder. And as I’ve been saying for six years now, I’ll shut up about Adam Duvall when the Giants get an everyday left fielder, and I’m still waiting. (Will it be Kris Bryant? Heliot Ramos? Jairo Pomares? Still waiting.)
- Trading Luis Castillo for Casey McGehee before the 2015 season. OK, stay with me here. After Pablo Sandoval spit in the Giants’ faces following the 2014 World Series and signed with the Red Sox, the Giants suddenly needed a third baseman. Not ready to hand the keys to young Matt Duffy, they traded two young pitchers from the low minors, including one Luis Castillo, to the Marlins for McGehee. It turned out to be a terrible trade–until yesterday. McGehee was out of the organization by the end of May 2015, the Marlins traded Castillo to the Reds, and he became a stud starting pitcher…who shut down the Dodgers yesterday and outpitched Walker Buehler. (You know who else did that recently? Dom Leone and his supporting cast.) Of course, Duffy (now on the Cubs) ended up being the 3B of the 2015 Giants, winning the Willie Mac Award, and finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting–to Kris Bryant (then on the Cubs, now on the Giants). See how weird this can get?
OK, I’m having a little fun with this, but let’s just acknowledge that this thought experiment is fundamentally unfair. Second-guessing, Monday morning quarterbacking, “hindsight is 20-20”–those are all cliches for a reason. But going back to Robert Frost, the roads that were taken “made all the difference,” at least as of today. What do you think? What others (present or past) can you think of?
Braves at Giants, 6:05 p.m. at Willie Mays Field
Charlie Morton (13-5, 3.49 ERA) vs. Alex Wood (10-4, 4.08 ERA)
This does not appear to be a matchup that favors the Giants (you know, like Leone vs. Buehler), so it’s all the more important that they did win last night’s game after all. Just a couple more weeks to see how this all ends up. Lefty out.