PHOENIX — Game 4 of the World Series was supposed to come with a Halloween warning label: Excessive use of excessive relief pitchers. May not be suitable for die-hard fans.
There were 11 hits by the winning team, 12 hits by the losing team, and 13 pitchers overall — and it might have taken 14 hours, if not for the stadium clock.
This is one recent innovation that kept the Texas Rangers’ 11-7 romp over the Arizona Diamondbacks tolerable: It was over in less than 200 minutes. Then again, so was “Waterworld,” and audiences didn’t accept it either.
With wild-card winners and lower-wattage stars, this World Series has always been challenged to attract regional fans in coastal markets. The first three games were convincing, and an Arizona win in Game 4 would have ensured the series would extend to at least six games for the fifth straight year.
Now the Rangers lead three games to one, and have a chance to win their first title in Game 5 on Wednesday. Fortunately, it’s a rematch between experienced shooters, Texas’ Nathan Eovaldi and Arizona’s Zach Gallen. No openers this time.
The home opener — before it was called that — was a magical part of World Series lore: 99 years ago, the Washington Senators started Game 7 with a little-used right fielder, Curly Ogden, hoping to entice the New York Giants to load their lineup. With the leftists. Ogden faced only two batters – there were no three-hitter minimums then! – before giving way to the leftists, and the senators continued to win.
Now, of course, the opener has become a popular tactic, popularized by the Tampa Bay Rays, a low-budget baseball educational laboratory. We’ve had bullpen games several times in the last World Series — by the Rays and Dodgers in 2020 and the injury-ravaged Braves in 2021 — and the Diamondbacks have embraced the idea of a Game 4.
“You’re throwing different looks at guys throughout the game,” said Joe Mantipelli, the lefty who collected Arizona’s first four games on Tuesday. “Every hitter never sees the same guy twice. Obviously, what Ryan (Nelson) did tonight was huge; he stepped up and ate five innings for us. But the strategy is to limit the number of guys hitting the ground running from the same guy.”
To look at the box score is to wonder why Nelson didn’t just start. Recalled in the fourth with his team trailing by 10 runs, Nelson worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run and striking out six with no walks. That would have been a credible start.
Nelson started 27 games this season and had a 5.31 ERA — not great, but better than Brandon Pvadt’s 5.72. Pfaadt mostly thrived as a starter in the postseason, but Nelson got buried in the bullpen and struggled in the playoffs.
Nelson admitted that he took himself out of a larger role. He was demoted to the minors in August, and has not shown enough to be trusted as a starter. Maybe if he had, his effort in Game 4 would have been more significant.
“That’s the frustrating part for me,” Nelson said. “If I had deserved it, this game might have ended differently.”
Without a starter for Game 4, Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo needed his second-tier assistants to keep the game close until he could call on his reliable late-inning crew: Ryan Thompson, Kevin Ginkel and Paul Sewald. When Texas unloaded on Mantebelle, Miguel Castro, Kyle Nelson and Luis Frias — aided by a Christian Walker error in the third period — Lovullo never had a chance.
Lovullo is secure enough to explain his movements frankly; He knows he doesn’t have all the answers. If he had known Nelson could throw the ball long — and well — couldn’t he have started him and avoided the chaos that unfolded?
“You look at it a little differently after you know the score,” Lovullo said. “And he might have been an option for us after the opener. He might have been an option for us to start the baseball game. But he did his job and it didn’t surprise me. I just know there were some shaky games in the postseason and we were trying to protect him a little bit and build his confidence and get him in the right place. And today It certainly was.
The Diamondbacks won the bullpen game against Philadelphia in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, even though the Phillies scored on four of their relievers and Craig Kimbrel made the save. Lovullo took the risk again and paid for it with a loss, an ugly one at that.
“This wasn’t your typical World Series game that has a lot of World Series moments,” he admitted, adding that he was simply trying to find the best way to win the game.
“We know we have three starting pitchers lined up for the next three days, and that’s where we were as an organization to do something like this. But the game is a little different than it was in 1975, when I was watching the Big Red Machine game against the Boston Red Sox. “This is a completely different feeling.”
The epic sixth game in 1975, when Carlton Fisk waved his gallery on his turf In the 12th inning, it was actually a showcase for Cincinnati. Manager Sparky Anderson pulled his starter after two innings and set a record by using seven relievers in a World Series game.
But the drama that night was so thick, and the performances so dazzling, that the changes in pace only heightened the tension. By contrast, this game was a failure — partly because of Texas’ poor showing at the end, but mostly because the World Series should be better than this.
There is a fine line between strategy and manipulation, and at this point, the bull play seems wrong.
“I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of him during the season,” Texans manager Bruce Bochy said. “It’s been done a lot, but I understand that if you don’t have a starter who fits that position there, you have to do it, you have to adapt to your club.
“I’m not saying that’s not a good thing. You’re in a World Series; you’ve got to do whatever you can to win the ballgame. But I’m saying in general — and that’s kind of my thinking over the years, because I think fans love games.
The Rangers probably would have hit Reign Nelson had he started. There is much more pressure in a draw match than in a blowout. Or perhaps Nelson had etched his name into World Series lore. Either way, it will be fun to find out.
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(Top photo of Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo removing Ryne Nelson in the ninth inning: Harry How/Getty Images)
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