John Farrell stuck with pitcher Clay Buchholz for Game 4 despite some questions about his sore right shoulder. Credit: Getty Images
ST. LOUIS -- Following Saturday night’s trying, 5-4, walk-off loss there was a lot of second-guessing of Red Sox manager John Farrell and the way he managed the game in terms of using his bullpen and pinch-hitters.
“It wasn't a normal night of sleep, I know that,” Farrell said prior to Sunday's game, especially considering how the game ended.
Much like a player would on the field, Farrell responded Sunday night by seemingly making all the right moves in the Red Sox’ 4-2 win, evening the series at two games apiece with the Cardinals.
It all started before the game when Shane Victorino needed to be scratched because of lower back soreness. Farrell shifted Daniel Nava to right field and put Jonny Gomes into the lineup, despite him being 5-for-33 in the postseason entering the game and going up a right-hander. He could have gone with Mike Carp who hit .300 off right-handers during the regular season, but he stuck with his gut in Gomes.
Farrell’s hunch paid off as Gomes hit a three-run home run in the sixth inning, which snapped a 1-1 tie at the time, and proved to be the game-winning hit in what was as much of a must win game for the Red Sox as you can get.
“I was notified like halfway through batting practice,” Gomes said. “It’s all I fought for in this year of mine is just the opportunity. So when my number is called, I’m stepping up. I’m not dodging any situation. Obviously a little different pregame between playing and not playing so I kind of got changed real quick.”
There was also much speculation on starter Clay Buchholz's status and how long he could go with his sore shoulder. Some even wondered if he could pitch at all, but Farrell went with Buchholz who delivered four innings of one-run ball, throwing 66 pitches, despite having a fastball that never reached more than 90 MPH. He likely could have gone longer if it weren’t for his spot in the batting order coming up in the fourth inning (he was pinch-hit for by Mike Carp).
“It was a conscious effort not to over throw knowing that I wasn’t going to have the fastball I usually have,” Buchholz said. “I felt like I gave it all that I could while I was out there and it was just a really good team effort.”
Relieving Buchholz was Felix Doubront, who just a few weeks ago towards the end of the regular season seemed to want no part in being a reliever in the postseason, but it’s been a decision that has paid off. Doubront went 2 2/3 innings, allowing just one run Sunday night, which was an inherited run Craig Breslow allowed in the seventh inning. In the regular season Doubront pitched 6 2/3 innings of relief and allowed 11 runs, but in the postseason he’s pitched seven innings and allowed just one run -- another check mark in Farrell’s column for keeping him on the playoff roster as a reliever.
“I was pretty focused,” Doubront said. “When I got my time, when I got that opportunity to go up there and do my job, you know, as a reliever, now I was feeling pretty good. And like I say, focus and try to get serious and give my teammates the opportunity to score more runs and win the game.”
Lastly, in what was a bit of a surprising move coming into the day was Farrell calling upon starter John Lackey to pitch the eighth inning in a two-run game. It was Lackey’s first relief appearance since 2004, and just his third career postseason relief outing, but it was his regular throwing day, so him pitching an inning wouldn’t affect his availability for a Game 6 start.
Breslow had already allowed an inherited runner to score in the seventh. Junichi Tazawa got the final out of the seventh, but hasn’t been comfortable with coming back out for a second inning after sitting all year. Koji Uehara hasn’t gone two full innings all postseason long and not since July 31 in the regular season, so Lackey proved to be a worthy candidate. The move paid off as it was a relatively uneventful eighth inning.
“We knew if we had to piece it together, it would be a little creative,” Farrell said. “Lackey was going to be available for the one inning and fortunately he gets a ground ball to finish out the eighth. So it kept us from having to go to Koji for one plus.”
Unlike in the regular season, every single move the manager makes at this stage of the game is under heavy scrutiny, particularly in a National League park with all the moves that can be made with double switches. Farrell certainly had his “A-game” Sunday night, a night that should include a full night's sleep.
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @Hannable84.