Prior to Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, there was much debate over who Willie Randolph should give the ball.
It was Steve Trachsel‘s turn in the rotation, but he was terrible in Game 3 and bad in the NLDS. Possibly, it was the result of the microdiscectomy he had in 2005, but he didn’t have in anymore.
Due to the rainouts in the series, Tom Glavine in one day of rest was a non-starter leaving the Mets unable to throw their best (healthy) pitcher in a winner-take-all-game.
As a result, when you broke it all down, the Mets best option was Darren Oliver Perez. That’s right, it was some combination of Darren Oliver, the former starter who was brilliant in the Mets bullpen in 2016, and Oliver Perez, the pitcher who did just enough to win Game 4. With Perez not being nearly as good as he was as his 2002 breakout season, and him starting on three days of rest, this truly was an all hands on deck type of game.
Looking at the game, it made sense to put the Mets bullpen front and center. The Mets had the best and deepest bullpen in the National League. That bullpen led the National League in wins, ERA, and fWAR. It was dominant, and even with the hiccups in Games 2 and 5 in the series, you certainly trusted it much more than you trusted anyone in the rotation.
As we are aware, things turned out much differently than anticipated. With the help of Endy Chavez making the greatest catch you will ever see, Perez would allow just one earned on four hits in six innings of work. He went far beyond what anyone could have anticipated, and really, he put the Mets in position to win that game.
Ultimately, the Mets would lose the game and as a result the series for two reasons. The first was the Mets offense didn’t deliver. After Endy’s catch, Javier Valentin struck out with the bases loaded, and Endy did not have more magic left for the inning instead flying out. In the ninth, Cliff Floyd struck out, Jim Edmonds robbed Jose Reyes, and Carlos Beltran struck out looking.
The second reason was the bullpen, specifically Aaron Heilman. He pitched a scoreless eighth, and he started off the ninth well striking out Edmonds. After the Scott Rolen single, he really was through the dangerous part of the lineup. He should have gotten through that inning unscathed to give the Mets a chance to walk off. Realistically speaking, no one could have anticipated what came next.
In 2006, Heilman did not get hit hard. He yielded just a 4.4% FB/HR ratio, and he had a 0.5 HR/9. He had not given up a home run since July 16th, and that was hit by Phil Nevin. Again, no one could see Yadier Molina‘s homer coming.
That didn’t stop it from coming, but just because it came, it did not mean Randolph and the Mets made the wrong decision trusting Heilman.
Sometimes, you make the right decision, and the wrong thing happens. It is what we saw happen last night with the Athletics.
Like the 2006 Mets, the real strength of that team was the bullpen. In a winner take all game, Bob Melvin put his faith in them. Ultimately, it was two of his best relievers, Fernando Rodney and Blake Treinen, who failed most. They took a close game and put it well out of reach.
That doesn’t mean he was wrong to trust those arms for one game. It just means the team’s best players didn’t perform, which is the reason the Athletics lost. Really, it was the use of an opener or the bullpenning. It was Rodney and Treinen, two pitchers who were definitively going to pitch in the game even if the Athletics used a traditional starter, who lost the game.
In the end, there is still a debate at the merits of using an opener or bullpenning, but the Athletics losing this game did not settle this debate. Not in the least.