Rays tie up the World Series

Phenom David Price survives a home run by Phillie Eric! Bruntlett! to get the last seven outs and preserve the win.


King Kaufman
October 24, 2008 3:00PM (UTC)

Bruntlett!

It had just been a few hours since I'd wondered why Philadelphia utilityman Eric Bruntlett was in the majors, never mind why he was playing a significant role for the Phillies in the World Series, and now here he was, pinch-hitting for designated hitter Gregg Dobbs with two outs and none on in the top of the eighth inning, the Phils trailing the Tampa Bay Rays 4-0 in Game 2.

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It was a platoon switch, the right-handed Bruntlett replacing the lefty-swinging Dobbs against Tampa Bay lefty David Price, the dart-throwing phenom who was the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft.

A ridiculous move. I was just about to reach for Baseball-Reference.com to assure myself that the punchless Bruntlett had worse numbers against lefties than not only Dobbs but also left-handed bench bats Geoff Jenkins and Matt Stairs and light-hitting right-handed outfielder So Taguchi when Price threw a pitch and Bruntlett crushed it. Home run.

Yes! Bruntlett! How great was that?

That home run was what I meant when I wrote that a manager's strategic moves only have a small effect on a game. You bring in Eric Bruntlett, with his .594 OPS, as a pinch hitter, and he hits a home run. You have a dynamic, nearly untouchable pitcher with electric stuff and a 96-mph fastball on the mound, and he gives up a home run to Eric Bruntlett. Strategize that.

So I used Baseball-Reference to look up the last time a guy with a sub-.600 OPS hit a home run in the World Series. The answer isn't as picturesque as I was hoping for. It was Bobby Kielty of the Boston Red Sox last year. He hit one in Game 4 after putting up a .574 during the regular year.

But before that you have to go back to 2002, when 39-year-old Shawon Dunston of the San Francisco Giants hit the last homer of his career in the World Series after posting a .536 OPS during the season.

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Bruntlett's homer didn't change the outcome. Price hung on through a rocky ninth and the Rays won 4-2 to even up the Series. Price pitched the last two and a third innings and wasn't dominant. He gave up a sharp double to Carlos Ruiz leading off the ninth, then hit Jimmy Rollins with a pitch, but umpire Kerwin Danley missed it.

Price retired Rollins, then gave up a hard-hit ball to Jason Werth that third baseman Evan Longoria couldn't handle. Longoria was charged with an error but it should have been a hit and an earned run. Price recovered to strike out Chase Utley and get Ryan Howard, who had broken out of his slump with a single and a double, on a grounder to first.

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It's not clear if Rays manager Joe Maddon has decided that Price is his closer. On the one hand, he brought the kid into the seventh inning of a 4-0 game. On the other, he left him in there to finish even as the game got tighter and other relievers warmed up.

The role of Price might be the most intriguing on-field story as the Series heads to Philadelphia for Games 3, 4 and 5 beginning Saturday night, weather permitting.

Except, of course, for Eric Bruntlett, about whom I'm vowing to devote every column from now to the end of the World Series.

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Here's what I found when I looked up the various bench players' numbers vs. left-handed pitching during the regular season. I'll add in backup catcher Chris Coste, who was the designated hitter against lefty Scott Kazmir in Game 1, and who had a bat in his hands at one point Thursday.

As you can see, I was spectacularly wrong about Bruntlett hitting for Dobbs. He was a pretty good choice.

Player Avg. OBP SLG OPS
 
Coste .296 .363 .519 .881
Bruntlett .254 .361 .380 .742
Stairs .235 .257 .382 .639
Taguchi .184 .231 .224 .455
Dobbs .111 .200 .111 .311
Jenkins .130 .160 .130 .290

 

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King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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