Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Failing to Play Your Ace

I’ve been fading in and out of baseball this year, occasionally checking in here and there but mostly letting it all go by until these last couple of weeks.

Now the playoffs are here and I’m intrigued again to watch, with that one-game wild card between the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays providing a decent amount of excitement last night thanks to extra innings and a walk-off homer to end it.

Kind of interesting today how the discussion of the game is focusing less on the three-run blast by the Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion to clinch the 5-2 win for Toronto, and more so upon Baltimore manager Buck Showalter’s decision not to bring in their ace closer Zach Britton who was 47 for 47 in save chances this year with a 0.54 ERA.

No Britton at all last night -- not in the ninth, not in the 10th, and not in the 11th. He warmed up three different times, but never entered the game. If he had it wouldn’t have been a save situation. But instead he was the one being saved, and never used.

An article over on ESPN today serves as kind of an extreme exercise in second-guessing, going through no less than 15 different moments during the game when Britton might have been called upon to enter the game. Some are brought up and dismissed, and some are more serious than others, but each of the ones coming near the end legitimately belong to the woulda-shoulda-coulda category.

Last week I was writing about the use of poker analogies when describing the presidential race, and how in fact sometimes the references to cards actually evoke other games. Today the talk is about Showalter having failed to play his “ace,” which again sounds more like a trick-taking game than poker.

Then again, poker -- a game in which the timing of one’s “moves” often matters greatly -- provides plenty of other, similar examples supporting the maxim “he who hesitates is lost.”

Image: “Ace of clubs” (adapted), Ulf Liljankoski. CC BY-ND 2.0.

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