Chess Match: Howard foils decision

Chess Match: Howard foils decision

PHILADELPHIA -- Often, the deciding inning in a baseball game is the ninth. That, after all, is why closers make so much money. But sometimes, it's the sixth or seventh -- or even the fourth.

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That was the case Sunday night in Game 4 of the World Series, as the Phillies took control of the game and likely the Series in the fourth. Plenty of other points throughout the game influenced the outcome, but Ryan Howard's three-run homer was unquestionably the most momentous play.

False hope?
The situation: Bottom of the fourth inning, one out, runners on first and second, Howard at the plate with the Phillies leading, 2-1.


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The decision: Rays manager Joe Maddon elected to leave starter Andy Sonnanstine in to face Howard, although lefty Trever Miller had been warming up.

The outcome: Howard cranks a three-run opposite-field homer, giving the Phillies a chokehold on the game and the Series.

The analysis: With Cole Hamels lurking in Game 5, the Rays really needed to approach Game 4 almost like an elimination game. That means that when your starter is on the ropes and you have a chance to exploit a massive platoon split, you have to take it. Sonnanstine had not been sharp all game, and in fact, the Rays removed him for a pinch-hitter in the next half-inning. Making Howard beat a lefty, rather than a scuffling right-hander, was the thing to do.

The comments: "[Sonnanstine] struck out [Chase] Utley, so at that point I'm just saying let's ride with it a little bit. If Utley had gotten on, Miller would have faced Howard. I didn't really want to do that. ... He made some nice pitches on Utley, so I thought he was OK. And then, of course, the home run, and I had to stick with him after that. [The pitcher was the] third hitter up next inning, I think. I did not want to bring a relief pitcher in too soon and have to waste him with a pinch-hitter. So it's one of those tough National League moments right there." -- Maddon

Nice work -- now hit the showers
The situation: With Philadelphia leading, 6-2, Joe Blanton issues a leadoff walk in the seventh.


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The decision: Manager Charlie Manuel pulls the trigger right away, replacing Blanton with Chad Durbin.

The outcome: The inning got a bit interesting, as Durbin allowed a single to put two men on for the top of the order, but a combined three relievers got out of the frame without a run.

The analysis: Blanton showed the aggressiveness you need to have in October, following the wise canard that you'd rather remove your starter too early than too late in a playoff game.

It's your game, kid
The situation: After Ryan Madson gets the last out of the seventh, Tampa Bay sends its 3-4-5 hitters to the plate against him in the eighth -- lefty Carlos Pena, right-hander Evan Longoria and lefty Carl Crawford.


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The decision: Manuel stayed with Madson, who has been absolutely superb this postseason.

The outcome: Madson was absolutely perfect, finishing his stint with 1 1/3 innings, no baserunners and three strikeouts. He fanned Pena and got Crawford to ground out.

The analysis: You have to know when to worry about platoon matchups and when not to. Pena isn't hitting anyone these days, so there's no need to go to a lefty for him. Crawford had a significant split this year, but it hasn't always been that drastic. And Madson gets lefties out, thanks in large part to his exceptional changeup. Moreover, he's easily the best pitcher in the Phillies bullpen not named Brad Lidge. So this was a case where getting too cute would have been the wrong move.

The comment: "The changeup is what got me to the big leagues. I learned it when I was 12 years old." -- Madson

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.