KANSAS CITY — Two thousand, four hundred sixty-one games are distilled to just one: one game for the championship. It will feature 39-year-old Giants righthander Tim Hudson, who will become the oldest pitcher ever to start World Series Game 7, against Jeremy Guthrie, a 35-year-old pitcher for the Royals with a lifetime 83-100 record who has been waived by the Indians and traded by the Orioles and Rockies. But Game 7 on Wednesday night will be as much about the managers as it will be about the starting pitchers.
San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy is going to use ace Madison Bumgarner in relief. The only question is when. He might not be Bochy's first reliever into the game, if only because a starting pitcher needs more time to warm than a normal reliever. But Bochy cannot let the game get away before using Bumgarner.
Kansas City manager Ned Yost has to scrap his typical HDH Formula — Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland for innings 7-8-9 — and play it more aggressively, especially with his big three relievers now sitting on two days of rest. Herrera must be the first reliever into the game, regardless of inning. Royals ace James Shields is available, but Herrera is the best multi-inning option for Yost, so Herrera has to be the first man in.
Look what happened in the last Game 7, the only one in the previous 11 years. It was 2011, Texas at St. Louis. Rangers manager Ron Washington opted to keep Matt Harrison as his Game 7 starter even though a rainout gave him the chance to start his hotter pitcher, Derek Holland, on regular rest. Harrison wasn't very sharp, but when Washington pulled him after the fourth inning the game still was within reach, the Cardinals leading 3-2.
But when Washington went to his bullpen, he didn't go to Holland and he didn't go to one of his best relievers. He turned to Scott Feldman, a long man who probably was his 10th pitcher on an 11-man staff. St. Louis scored two runs off Feldman and emergency reliever C.J. Wilson without the benefit of a hit. Now it was 5-2, and Texas would go on to lose, 6-2.
These Games 7 are hard to manage because managers must get outside their comfort zone. Formulas and "this is how we did it in the regular season" no longer apply. And with Hudson and Guthrie starting this Game 7, it's unlikely that we're looking at a pitcher's duel in which each manager will stick with his starter through more than 100 pitches.
Before Game 6, I asked Bochy why he is so successful as a postseason manager. He entered Game 6 having won nine straight postseason series (if you count the wild card game as a "series") with a 33-13 record. What was it about October that he had learned was different from the previous six months?
"You know," he said, "I start with a sense of urgency. You understand how one game, any game, can make the difference in a series."
Bochy then told the story of a move he made that has stuck with him to this day. It was Game 3 of the 2010 NLDS. The Giants led Atlanta, 1-0. Jonathan Sanchez was throwing a two-hit shutout and had thrown only 105 pitches. With one out and one on in the eighth, Bochy pulled Sanchez to have Sergio Romo face Troy Glaus. Braves manager Bobby Cox countered by sending Eric Hinske to bat for Glaus. Hinkse hit a two-run homer off Romo.
"I really felt awful," Bochy said. "Jonathan was dealing. You've got to stick with your gut. That one was tough because I really beat myself up."
San Francisco rallied to win the game, 3-2, with two runs in the ninth off Craig Kimbrel. Bochy learned a lesson. Yes, he would manage postseason games with a sense of urgency, but he also would need to trust his gut.
"Another thing," he said about managing in the postseason, "is that you have to keep calm any way you can and relay that to the players. This is a special group. They don't need a lot of help with that part. But the manager's job also is the feel you get for which guys can handle [pressure] and who can't."
In Game 7, the pressure is on the Giants. It's not on the just because they lost Game 6, 10-0. It's also because they are on the road. The road team is 0-9 in Game 7 since Pittsburgh won at Baltimore in 1979.
Here's the odd part about those nine straight Game 7 losing teams: seven of them actually held a lead in Game 7. Teams that score first in the past nine Games 7 are 4-5. What happens is that Game 7 often gets lost in the middle innings, when managers face critical and unusual decisions about pitchers in a winner-take-all game.
A World Series Game 7 comes around so rarely that until tonight, there was only one active manager who had faced one: Mike Scioscia, who won with the Angels and rookie John Lackey on the mound — against a Dusty Baker-managed San Francisco team — in 2002. Now it's the Giants vs. Royals, and Hudson vs. Guthrie. But as much as anything else, it's Bochy vs. Yost, two backup catchers from the 1980s who are thrust into the spotlight.
2. Selig's plan pays off
What a fitting way for Bud Selig to go out as commissioner in his last World Series: a matchup of two wild-card teams that failed to win 90 games, including one from the second smallest market in baseball, playing in the park of the American League champion because of the result of the All-Star Game. Selig was the most influential person in the game's unprecedented growth and the driving force behind playoff expansion (first one wild card, starting in 1995, and then a second one, beginning in 2012, in each league), competitive balance incentives to provide even the smaller markets with "hope and faith" (taxes and increased revenue-sharing) and the use of the All-Star Game to determine homefield advantage in the World Series (an upgrade on the previous designation: the Gregorian calendar). It's as if all of his favorite ingredients from 23 years as commissioner have been thrown into one big pot for one big game — a Selig goulash. It's only his fifth Game 7 in 23 seasons as commissioner.
There are no great teams these days in part because Selig has been so good at leveling the playing field. We have played three straight full seasons without a 100-win team — the first time that has happened since the 162-game schedule began in 1961. We have seen only three 100-win teams in the past nine years (2006-14), after there were 17 such teams in the previous nine years (1997-2005). The Royals are the 19th franchise to take part in the 22 World Series over which he has presided as commissioner. And this is the first time in any full season we have two teams in the World Series that didn't win 90 games. San Francisco and Kansas City finished with the seventh- and eighth-best records in baseball, respectively.
Some see the competitive balance and expanded postseason as a "watering down" of the product, but there's no sense in hanging on to the "glory days" of baseball, say when Mickey Mantle's 104-win Yankees played Sandy Koufax's 99-win Dodgers in the 1963 World Series. That season, only three teams, including the pennant winners, finished less than 10 games from a playoff spot. The average per-game attendance was 12,648.
This year, 17 teams finished within 10 games of the postseason and the average attendance was 30,346 — a 140-percent improvement from the age when baseball ruled as the national pastime.
3. News and notes
• Jake Peavy always did seem like a poor option to start Game 6 for the Giants, but it turned out even worse than expected. He was gone after getting only four outs. Peavy is officially the worst starting pitcher in postseason history. He is the only man to make nine straight postseason starts without completing six innings (no one else has a streak longer than six) and his 7.98 ERA is the worst ever, displacing Jaret Wright and his 7.07 ERA (minimum: eight starts). His career ERA at Kauffman Stadium is now 7.28.
• Royals starter Yordano Ventura, 23, became the second youngest pitcher to win a World Series Game 6, displacing Josh Beckett by just a few days. Paul Dean, then 22, of the 1934 Cardinals is the only pitcher who was younger when he won Game 6.
• Worth stating, though there is no obvious reason for it: Home teams are 23-3 since 1982 in World Series Game 6 and 7.
• The Giants had scored 15 unanswered runs against Kansas City in Games 4 and 5 until the Royals responded with 10 unanswered runs in Game 6.
• Keep this handy for Game 7: Teams that allow an unearned run are 5-17 in the decisive Game 7. Most Games 7 are very clean; since 1958, there have been only six unearned runs total in those games — and never more than one per game. In postseason play under Bochy, the Giants are 0-5 when they allow an unearned run and 15-0 when they score one themselves.
• The World Series will be decided in Kansas City for the second time. (The first occurred in 1985, when the Royals beat the Cardinals). That leaves seven major league cities that have seen just one World Series clincher (Anaheim, Denver, Houston, Milwaukee, Phoenix, San Diego, Toronto) and two that never have hosted one (Seattle and St. Petersburg).