If you're looking for an argument that having a smart manager in the dugout is integral to a baseball team's success, last night's Cardinals-Giants game is it. Not only did it feature Mike Matheny badly managing his club right into a walk-off homer, it had the manager on the other side of the field, Bruce Bochy, willing to make the kind of on-the-fly decisions that Matheny was too stubborn to consider making himself.
Matheny's big blunder—bringing a 23-year-old starter who hadn't pitched in three weeks into a tie game in the bottom of the ninth—is the thing everyone will remember about this game, especially with the coach explaining himself like this:
Translation: "I didn't bring in my best bullpen arm to get us through the biggest inning of the season because of some made-up rule I follow." That's terrible managing, and it looks even worse given the fact that Bochy avoided steering his team toward a similar disaster in the previous half inning.
In the top of the ninth, Bochy gave the ball to closer Santiago Casilla, who has been unhittable this postseason. It immediately became clear that he didn't have his best stuff; this was his third straight day coming out of the pen, and he sandwiched a hit and two walks between the two outs he recorded. With runners on first and second, Casilla just needed to retire pinch hitter Oscar Taveras in order to escape the inning.
Here's where a lesser manager's logic may have gone something like this: Casilla's our best guy, and this is a big moment. He's our closer and we want our closer on the mound in this situation. Gotta let him fight through this. Instead, Bochy yanked Casilla and brought in lefty specialist Jeremy Affeldt, who made quick work of Taveras and preserved the tie game.
And then the bottom half of the inning started, and Wacha looked just as shaky as Casilla did through the first three batters of the inning. But instead of making the necessary, obvious move—the same one Bochy had made just a few minutes previously—Matheny left Wacha out there to die along with the Cardinals' chances at a World Series.
Second-guessing baseball managers is easy, and the extent to which it happens borders on unfair. No manager has the power to singlehandedly blow a game or swing one in his team's favor. The good ones just understand how to reduce risk. Leaving a struggling Casilla on the mound was risky, so Bochy went and got him. It was a simple enough decision, but when a guy like Matheny refuses to do the same thing just a few outs later and disaster ensues, you understand just how important a decision it was.