In the fifth inning of a 7-1 game, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons went to the mound to retrieve starting pitcher R.A. Dickey with two outs and one baserunner aboard. After being staked to a big lead by his offensive mates, Dickey had set to shutting down the Texas Rangers, and had allowed only five hits, while walking none. Dickey had thrown only 78 pitches, and by virtue of the fact that his primary pitch is a 78 mile per hour flutterball, he probably could have thrown 40 more.
But alas, here came Gibbons. The Blue Jays, down two games to one in the series could ill afford to allow a big inning. The Houston Astros had just blown a 6-2 lead after having the governor of Texas celebrating prematurely. So, Gibbons came to take the ball from Dickey.
Who was coming in? None other than American League Cy Young candidate David Price.
Price got Shin-Soo Choo on one pitch, and the minor threat was neutralized. Instead of taking Price out after only one pitch, in order to preserve him for a potential Game 5, Gibbons ran Price back out for three more innings despite the fact that the Blue Jays lead would swell to 8-1 at one point. Price eventually gave up three runs, allowing the Rangers to make things interesting before leaving with two outs in the eighth.
That Price would eventually give up three runs should not cloud the analysis of the decision. The Blue Jays wasted the ace they mortgaged their future on in the fifth inning of a 7-1 game. Marcus Stroman will be starting Game 5, and Price will be unavailable after throwing 50 pitches.
I’m still left scratching my head as to why Price was the choice for Gibbons in the middle innings of a blowout game. With a big lead, Dickey should have been given the chance to work through at least the sixth inning. After a 14-inning game earlier in the series, using Price could have been seen as a way to save the bullpen while aligning the rotation for a potential ALCS appearance. If Stroman was the choice for Game 5 all along, then there can be some reason seen in the decision to use Price in Game 4, but not much.
This game is a perfect example of why the Blue Jays needed Mark Buehrle on their postseason roster. Instead of having a good, competent long reliever to clean up small messes in a blowout, Toronto had no better option than to burn Price a day early. Even though Price has had his share of postseason struggles, it’s hard to imagine not wanting him available for an all-hands-on-deck Game 5.
If the Blue Jays lose Game 5, and LaTroy Hawkins or Aaron Sanchez blows the game, this decision could go down as one of the worst in recent history. Gibbons should have done everything in his power to keep Price available for a pivotal Game 5. If he was managing Price to set him up for the ALCS, his decision-making process is even worse. You cannot be managing for a round you may not reach. If both Price and Stroman were forced to pitch long innings in Game 5, then neither would be available until the middle of the ALCS. It’s understandable, but not the correct decision. The Blue Jays must get through the Texas Rangers first and then begin worrying about the next round.