Well, like most edge-of-our-seats fans, I was a little surprised to see David Price out in the bullpen already throwing in earnest by the fourth inning. Even more surprised to see him brought into the game with RA Dickey seemingly cruising along, one out from getting his first post-season win and the Jays up by 6. RA looked understandably upset in the dugout as he saw Shin Shoo Choo lob a lazy flyball off Price to end the inning. And no matter how he phrased it in post-game scrums, one has to believe he’s a little upset that anyone in years to come will look at the boxscore and see that “W” beside Price’s name when it was he who put the Jays in a spot where they could relax a bit and necessitate a Game 5.
The move made little sense to me. Now, had they gone with Price on short-rest as the starter and had Dickey ready to go in the ‘pen, I might have understood. After all, Price is the “ace” and although he’d have been on short rest, he had 11 days off prior to the Thursday game so he could have soldiered through six innings or so. That move, although I’m not sure I would have agreed, would have made some sense since statistically Price is the man, ahead of Dickey and because it seems like Dickey usually gets in trouble early. How many times have we seen him cough up two or three easy runs in the first only to settle down and put up a string of zeroes later in the game? The obvious problem there is that if that had happened yesterday, by the time Texas put three across the plate they would have had the momentum, roaring crowd and a string of zeroes through subsequent innings might not have been enough for the Jays to get back in it. But none of those scenarios had occurred; Dickey seemed strong and effective.
Of course, I was really looking at it from the wrong angle. It wasn’t a move to embarrass Dickey or based on a lack of confidence in him. Quite the opposite. The pitching change was a move from a manager who could breathe a sigh of relief in having an excuse not to let Price take the mound on Game 5 and still be able to save face. No matter what they say, the Jays didn’t pull Dickey because they were worried about him tiring (78 pitches in) or about Choo hitting a homer and narrowing the lead to 7-3. They did it because they were nervous about the prospect of having Price pitch the most important game of the year, so far; nervous he’d blow it and equally nervous of a “spitstorm” of backlash should they have decided to go with Stroman ahead of a rested Price on Wednesday and the result not be a decisive win.
Looking at it that way,it was a clever move. Make no mistake about it- Price is the best pitcher on the Jays staff right now. Also be sure that the Blue Jays wouldn’t be playing now had they not made the trade for him. If in doubt of that, look at how effective Matt Boyd (who was in the rotation before he was traded for Price) or Randy Wolf (the next logical choice for Toronto to turn to had they given up on Boyd, based on Wolf’s performance in the minors) were in the final two months for Detroit. (To refresh your memory, Boyd was 1-4 with a 6.57 ERA in ten starts for the Tigers; Wolf was 0-5, 6.23 in 8 appearances there.) Price’s dominating 9-1 record as a Blue Jay, not to mention the benefit in giving the bullpen a bit of rest and adding confidence to the clubhouse, was the reason the team bolted ahead of the Yankees in the stretch and are where they are.
But… make no mistake either that he wasn’t the man to take Toronto to the ALCS this time. First, he’s always struggled against the Rangers. In 11 career regular season games with them, he’s 3-4 with a personal worst 5.15 ERA. His weak outing in game 1 suggests they still seem to have his number. Second, he’s always struggled as a starter in the post-season. Prior to yesterday, his record as a starting pitcher in the playoffs was just 1-6 with a lofty 4.79 ERA and an opponents’ average of .260. Compare that to a 3.09 ERA and .233 average during the regular season. So combine the two and you understand why the Jays would be nervous about handing him the ball in a game against Texas that could end their dream season. This wasn’t about Toronto not trusting RA Dickey to get Choo out or give a couple more innings yesterday, it was about having enough breathing room in the game to risk putting Price in it and having a good excuse to not use him tomorrow.
Gibbons might not admit that much, but he did point out he thought it was “pretty good strategy, it wasn’t a popular one…it’s all about winning.” that it is and in this unusual case, assuring their “best” pitcher can’t pitch in the decisive game is indeed pretty good strategy!