The Turning Point: With runners on first and third and Sergio Romo(notes) struggling with no outs in the eighth inning, San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy decided it was time for the Atlanta Braves to "Fear the Beard." And so he summoned Brian Wilson(notes) (and his beard) from the bullpen and entrusted a 4-1 lead to the man who saved a big league-best 48 games for the Giants in 2010. Six more outs and San Francisco would earn a dominating 2-0 series lead heading into Atlanta for Sunday's Game 3.
Of course, it never got that far.
The trouble started on the first batter. Melky Cabrera(notes) grounded to third, but reached safely when Pablo Sandoval's(notes) throw pulled Aubrey Huff(notes) off the bag. Derrek Lee(notes) came home to score on the play.
Brooks Conrad(notes) sacrificed two runners into scoring position, then Alex Gonzalez(notes) came up with the big blow, hitting a game-tying double into the left field gap. Wilson would get out of the inning without further incident and would pitch a 1-2-3 ninth, but the damage was done. The Braves would go on to win 5-4 in 11 innings after Rick Ankiel(notes) hit a homer into McCovey Cove off Ramon Ramirez(notes).
The Case For: If anyone trademarked the one-plus inning save in 2010, it was Wilson. Ten of his 48 saves were of the four- or five-out variety and he hadn't pitched since Sunday's NL West clincher against San Diego. Throw in Saturday's off day and Bochy clearly had no reason to limit Wilson's workload. With Romo surrendering singles to lead off the inning, Bochy needed another righthander to protect what was still a comfortable three-run lead. He reasonably turned to the guy who had blown only five saves all season.
The Case Against: Despite pinch-third baseman Troy Glaus keying that insane double play in extra innings, there's a school of thought that says managers should never ask their players to do anything in the postseason that they hadn't asked them to do in the regular season. Wilson did not record any six-out saves in 2010.
Also, the rest of the bullpen was fresh thanks to the time off this week (and Tim Lincecum's complete game on Thursday) and it's not like it's a pen filled with question marks. Coming into Friday's game, the Giants bullpen had not allowed a run in its previous 24 1/3 innings. Had Bochy used someone else — say, Ramirez — Wilson would have been available later if need be and the Giants would have had a better pitcher throwing in a situation with less margin for error.
Wilson: "When I'm called upon, I enjoy being the stopper. When the skipper asks me to come out, regardless of the situation, I feel like I should be able to get out of it."
Bochy: "Sometimes the save can be in the eighth inning. He was fresh and we're trying to stop it then. At that point we're going with our closer to try to get out of the eighth. I have no concern with Willie going two innings."
Huff: "We'll take Wilson out there every day. He's been our guy all year long. No way, shape or form do I think he shouldn't be out there. He's our guy."
Stew Verdict: Wilson said using the "too early" excuse should be considered a "crutch" and we agree. Hindsight is 20/20, but you don't even need to apply it in this situation. Wilson had the misfortune of Sandoval not being able to make the throw on Cabrera and then throwing one bad pitch to Gonzalez (who was two-for-his-last-41). He came into a tough situation and it's not as if any of the baserunners were of his own doing.
If Bochy had saved Wilson for later and Ramirez had come in and served up a three-run homer to Cabrera, we'd all be lighting him up for subscribing to the rigid belief that a closer can only work in the ninth inning. Bochy tabbed his best reliever for the toughest situation and it just didn't work out. Given Wilson's record this season, you can't fault his manager for trying.
What do you think?
- Bruce Bochy