Matheny's bullpen move doesn't pay off
Instead of Boggs vs. Tracy, manager brings in Rzepczynski, who allows go-ahead runs
ST. LOUIS -- Mike Matheny had three choices.
The Cardinals were leading by one run, with two outs in the top of the eighth inning. The Nationals had runners on second and third, with right-hander Mitchell Boggs on the mound. Chad Tracy, a left-handed hitter, had been announced as the pinch-hitter.
The Cards' manager could have:
Left Boggs in the game, which is what he normally did during the regular season.
Brought in closer Jason Motte for a four-out save.
Made the move he actually did make. Matheny brought in his only left-hander, Marc Rzepczynski, to face Tracy, knowing that Nationals manager Davey Johnson would counter by replacing Tracy with a right-handed hitter, which he did. The matchup turned out to be Rzepczynski against Tyler Moore.
The record will show that on an afternoon when the Cardinals' bullpen did a nice job -- Lance Lynn struck out Jayson Werth to leave the bases loaded in the sixth, Trade Deadline pickup Edward Mujica didn't allow a ball out of the infield in the seventh, Boggs could have been out of the inning except for an error -- Matheny's move didn't work.
Moore poked a soft single to right, two runs scored and the Nationals came back to beat the Cardinals, 3-2, in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Busch Stadium on Sunday.
"The pitch was six inches off the plate, and he did a good job of just getting it off the end of the bat and blooped it right in there," Rzepczynski said. "I tried to miss a little bit. In a situation like that, you don't want to make too good a pitch. And he was just able to poke the bat out, and it fell in. I felt like my stuff was good, and I was going to go out there and get him out. It was just a little bit up. If maybe it was a little bit down, he hits it on the ground.
"When stuff like that falls in, I can't be too upset. At the same time, I am."
Matheny, of course, had given plenty of thought to his options before pulling the trigger. To start with, he fully expected Johnson to bring in a right-handed hitter when he waved Rzepczynski in from the bullpen. The problem was that the pitcher's spot was due up fourth in the bottom of the eighth.
"Either you leave Boggs in the game, which we would normally do," Matheny said, "or we could go to Motte if we have a double-switch we can pull off, so we can keep him in for the ninth. And we didn't have that move, not one I was comfortable with. So that left us with Zep against one of their young right-handers, and [Moore] went up there and put together a good at-bat. That was the game.
"The other decision is to bring in Motte right there, which we do a good part of the time if we have a double-switch. But that comes down to whether I want to take out [Matt] Holliday, [Allen] Craig or [Yadier] Molina in that situation. And I had faith that if they did make a move to remove Tracy from the game, that Zep would be able to get out one of their young right-handed pinch-hitters. And that didn't work for us."
From the other side of the chess board, Johnson said he didn't expect Matheny to take Boggs out of the game.
"But I told Tracy when he went up there, if [Matheny] takes [Boggs] out and brings in Rzepczynski ... I'm hitting Moore," Johnson said. "I'd rather have the veteran player [like Tracy] in that situation than a rookie. But rookies have been having success all year. They've been doing a heck of a job, and Moore has gotten some big hits for us. And he did it again.
"You know, I track him [Matheny]. And he usually leaves it to Boggs. I didn't think Motte was warming up at that point ... so I was not really concerned. I thought that I had the upper hand, because I was going to control the matchup, no matter what it was. If [Matheny] brings Motte in, he's going to face my best pinch-hitter in Tracy. I'm comfortable with that."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.