The Kansas City Royals beat the Oakland A’s in spite of manager Ned Yost. This seems to be the prevailing logic the morning after a wild American League Wild Card game that went to extra innings and took 5 hours to complete. Yost is being ridiculed for a couple of curious choices most notably his decision in the top of the 6th to replace starting pitcher James Shields with rookie Yordano Ventura. With two on and nobody out, Ventura fell behind the first batter he faced Brandon Moss 2-0 before serving up a belt high fastball which Moss deposited over the center field fence for his second home run of the game putting the A’s up 5-3. Ventura would exit after recording just a single out and the A’s would tack on 2 more runs in the inning.
Kansas City would comeback to even in the score in the 9th, thanks to some aggressive base running (a hallmark of this Royals team), before winning in dramatic fashion in the 12th. However, the biggest questions is why Yost, and other baseball managers, manage games differently in the playoffs compared to the regular season?
The best way to explain Yost’s decision to replace Ventura with Shields is pressure. The pressure of a win or stay home Wild Card game is enormous especially for a franchise that hadn’t been to the postseason in 28 years. In the fervor of the moment Yost must have felt that Ventura was his best bridge between starter Shields and late game studs Herrera-Davis-Holland. But Ventura is a rookie who had been a starting pitcher for 30 of his 31 appearances in the regular season. As Ron Darling said on the telecast, expecting a pitcher to perform in an unfamiliar role, especially in the postseason, is asking a lot of that player, especially a rookie. If last night were a regular season game then Shields would have pitched to Moss before turning the game over to the pen in the 7th. So why didn’t Yost stick with the plan that had led to so much success during the regular season?
Maybe Shields was tired and facing the middle of the A’s lineup for the third time in the game was asking too much? Maybe Yost didn’t want to stretch out the H-D-H three headed monster that performs so well in part because they all have clearly defined roles?
There are many reasons why Yost could have managed last night’s Wild Card game the way he did but the pressure of the postseason is the one that makes the most sense.