Craig Kimbrel standing around in a bullpen, realizing his season was probably over.
That's the indelible image of the 2013 Braves now. Before the season started, the Braves were hoping for a different indelible image. Say, one Upton knocking in another in a taut World Series game. Tim Hudson wining the pennant with an all-time performance in the NLCS. Freddie Freeman capping off an MVP season with an absurd run through the postseason.
Instead: Craig Kimbrel standing around in a bullpen, realizing his season was probably over.
That's going to be the story of this game, not Freddy Garcia's miracle start, not the decision to start Clayton Kershaw on three-days rest, and not Don Mattingly's hilarious bunt fetish. It's going to be about Fredi Gonzalez not bringing Kimbrel in to pitch two innings with the season on the line.
It's not like having Kimbrel start the eighth would have been some sort of freak show. The Yankees did it regularly with Mariano Rivera. It worked. It worked well. You might say it was something another team with a dominant closer might choose to emulate.
In the postgame press conference, Gonzalez said they considered four outs, but not six, for Kimbrel. As if four outs are easy, but the fifth and sixth outs make elbows and shoulders function like running microwaves with forks in them. That distinction will get a lot of attention because it sure seems arbitrary.
But limiting Kimbrel's workload wasn't the only iffy bullpen-related decision of the night. It looks like the worst decision because there's precedence with Rivera and other relievers . Craig Kimbrel as a rookie, for example. So it's not like a manager who dared to use his closer for two innings would be labeled as some sort of eccentric.
Pretend that limiting Kimbrel's workload was a legitimate concern, though and that he was really good for only an inning. Pretend that, for whatever reason, real or invented, the Braves were right to use Kimbrel for just four outs or fewer. In that scenario, here's the real problem:
Due up in the eighth
5. Yasiel Puig
6. Juan Uribe
7. Skip Schumaker
(Possibly) due up in ninth
8. A.J. Ellis
9. Andre Ethier
1. Carl Crawford
The Dodgers could have made my point a little easier if they had Hanley Ramirez/Adrian Gonzalez/Puig due up in the eighth, but this will do. The biggest concern up there was Puig. He was the scariest hitter of the bunch. After that, Ethier, followed by Crawford.
At the very least, Kimbrel should have pitched the eighth inning before being relieved. He should have been the pitcher throwing against Puig and Uribe, who were the Dodgers' best chance to tie the game or take the lead with one swing. Alex Wood threw 35 pitches on Sunday, so maybe it would have been too much to ask him to get Ethier and Crawford. But when a team's best hitters are up in the eighth, the closer still comes out in the ninth. And it still doesn't make sense.
This isn't a new or poignant observation, but it's applicable, here. Gonzalez wasn't going to be a freethinking radical for using Kimbrel for two innings, but if he started using Kimbrel to get the big hitters out in the eighth inning, it would be a story. "Baseball Man Thinks Differently." And there's no incentive for a manager to mess around with that.
It's just like those statheads to ruin everything. So obsessed with the save. So willing to ruin everything in the quest for that silly stat.
But yet again, we're left wondering when we're going to see a manager use his best reliever in the sixth, seventh, or eighth innings as the situation dictates. It will take a real freak to try it. Gonzalez wasn't that freak. And he probably should have done the acceptable thing and brought Kimbrel in for two innings. But if he couldn't, at least he could have had his best pitcher throw against the other team's best hitter. It doesn't sound crazy when you put it like that, but apparently it really is that crazy.
Craig Kimbrel standing around in a bullpen, realizing his season was probably over. Figuring out how not to have that happen in a one-run game is probably a manager's biggest priority. Gonzalez had a chance. Now he has an offseason.