I couldn’t find a single person who agreed with the decision.
Here’s the thing about watching an intense game surrounded by an intense group of folks, supplemented by the intensely black-and-white attitude of the online sphere: you’re going to develop a gut reaction to a decision like that, and there will be very little around to sway your mind.
When Joe Maddon pulled Jon Lester from last night’s game in the bottom of the 6th inning, with two outs, a runner on second base, and a two-run lead, it felt like the wrong move. From a distant barroom glance, Lester was cruising, hadn’t even hit 80 pitches yet, and was more valuable on the mound to the Cubs than the upgrade to Jorge Soler at the plate for one crack at an additional run or two. And, as I said, I couldn’t find anyone who agreed with the decision at the time, and probably included a very sullen-looking Jon Lester on the Cubs’ bench.
But I didn’t get to make that decision. Joe Maddon did. And with a night’s sleep behind me and the distance of sitting in a room and typing things by myself, I’m no longer convinced Maddon made the wrong move.
First, here’s Maddon’s explanation, from his post-game press conference (Cubs.com):
“I just thought that tonight Jon really wasn’t on top of his game. There was a chance to put add-on runs in that particular moment. You had Gonzalez, and then Ruiz had two good at-bats against him. Hernandez has already had good at-bats at him. So it was also an opportunity to get Ruiz out of the game, which eventually turned into Grandal. So you got to look at the whole big picture. So all those things were part of it. If Jon was on top of his game, I may not have done it, but I didn’t think he had his best stuff tonight.”
That’s the thing about those caught-up-in-the-moment, surrounded-by-an-echo-chamber-of-amped-up-fans positions – they’re usually way too influenced by results-oriented thinking. Lester had given up only one run on the night, so he was cruising. Except was he really? Upon reflection, Lester had given up a ton of hard contact, was not dominating the Dodgers with swing-and-miss stuff, and was getting a lot of help from his defense and the BABIP gods. Lester got just nine swings and misses in the game, and just three strikeouts. Sure, he’d given up only four hits and one walk, but the hard contact should have been a little more alarming.
Maddon saw it. Maddon thought ahead to the next set of innings. Maddon made his call.
Even after reflection, I’m still not sure I would have made the same call, but I can’t sit here today and say it was plainly wrong, however it worked out. In fact, considering everything, maybe it really was the right move.
For his part, Lester said after the game that he knows there’s a lot that goes into those decisions, and he doesn’t “get paid to make decisions, [he gets] paid to pitch.” (ESPN) Lester understands why Maddon makes these moves.
In the end, I’m at peace with the decision. How much of that is because, after losing the lead, the Cubs wound up winning the game in dramatic fashion? Undoubtedly some. Even when steeled away in thought, I still can’t entirely separate myself from results-based thinking.
But, like so many times before in Maddon’s two years at the helm of the Cubs, he’s going to stick with the process in making his decisions. And 49 times out of 50, he’s going to make the right decision. That other time? Well, we can chat about it the next day. And usually, even that 1 in 50 is still a defensible move.