In Game 163–another game the Rays had to win–Joe Maddon again showed America why he’s the best manager in baseball once again. Maddon has shown that he likes to make moves during games to get the best matchups. This season he took advantage of September call-ups to set a record for most players used during a game. In tonight’s game, though, Maddon demonstrated he knows when to leave players alone.
Maddon let David Price stay in the game despite Joel Peralta warming up and ready in the 8th and Rodney ready in the 9th. Price had thrown over 100 pitches, but was still effective. During the season, Price probably would have sat after seven innings. BUt knowing that this was win or go home, Maddon stayed with his ace, and made some defensive switches to help his ace finish off his incredible outign.
Maddon’s defensive switch to Sam Fuld paid offensive dividends when Fuld singled, moved to second on a ground out, and took advantage of Tanner Scheppers‘ preoccupation with his failing control to steal third and come home on the pitcher’s errant throw. Earlier in the game, he pinch-hit David DeJesus for Sean Rodriguez and DeJesus exploded on an Alexi Ogando fastball for a double and brought in a run. Not every move worked–Maddon letting Jose Molina batting with two outs and the bases loaded backfired–but Maddon may have figured that with a lead, Molina’s defense and game calling skills were more valuable to keep in the game. No manager can be perfect, even for a game. On Monday, however, Maddon was as close as you’ll get, and he could not have picked a better game to put his strategic talents on display.
Of course, making the right move doesn’t matter if the players don’t execute. But it has to help the players’ confidence knowing that Maddon will put them in positions where they can succeed. He’s not afraid to play anyone on his roster. For example, the Rays called up outfield prospect Kevin Kiermaier today, and Maddon put him in during the bottom of the ninth to play defense. Other managers would have glossed over the rookie, not wanting to let an inexperienced player come even close to the field. Maddon, though, is a different story. He believed that Kiermaier would improve the rays’ defense and wasn’t afraid to put him in. Because players know Maddon may call on they any time, they know they need to be ready. Everyone is on their toes knowing that their opportunity to shine might be just a moment away. Joe Maddon didn’t need a lot of lineup changes to win Game 163. But the changes he did make (and in the case of David Price, didn’t make) all helped bring the Rays to another must-win game and a trip to Cleveland on Wednesday for the AL Wild Card.