A.J. Hinch Taking Heat

The Nats were just better.

Jim Rome
October 31, 2019 - 11:03 am
Houston Astros

USA Today

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And as always, the best part of the World Series are the celebrations. Check this audio of the bottles popping and the champagne flying as soon as the last out was recorded.

Or this one.

Except neither of those were from the Nationals, they were from the Capitals. As in the Washington Capitals, who were watching the game and started partying like they’d won a championship. And they even brought out a World Series trophy.

And as the Capitals official twitter account wrote: Oh man who gave Ovi a trophy... You know what happens next...

What happens next is a party with the Capitals and an absolute rager in Nationals clubhouse in Houston. Anthony Rendon shouting “I want a bourbon.” The new 21-year-old, Juan Soto, told Jeff Passan he was open to trying bourbon. "I drink everything. I just want to try everything. I love the champagne."

It was Soto’s walk that sent Zack Greinke to the showers. And Soto summed up his reaction perfectly: "I feel like when he come out of the game, we say, 'Daddy's out. Now we gotta get it.’ We gotta get it, we gotta fight, we gotta find out the way -- and the next hitter, we get it."

They certainly did. They got it. And you know that means. That means

there are plenty of people looking to pile on AJ Hinch for making the move that he made there. And they’re coming for him for one of two decisions: either that he shouldn’t have pulled Greinke or that he should’ve gone to Gerrit Cole.

I get why you might think he should’ve stuck with Greinke. After all, Houston’s third ace was dealing like an ace. He’d made one bad pitch all night and it was the one Rendon left in the seats. So you can see the argument for keeping him out there, especially with how things ended up.

But here’s the other piece of that - the Nationals figure out pitchers over the course of a game. That’s how they roll. That’s why they’re so clutch late in games.

Greinke dominated Rendon earlier in the game and then watched him go yard. And then walked Soto. Greinke pitched his ass off.  He emptied the tank. He gave them everything he had: he did his job. But Hinch had to do this: and I have absolutely no problem with him saying that it’s a one-run game, I don’t want to take a chance that Howie Kendrick will be the next guy to figure out Greinke. Bomb, walk, one run game, you did your job Greink, now I’m going to have the bullpen do theirs. 

And  I don’t have a problem with him going to Will Harris out of the bullpen in that spot instead of Gerrit Cole.

As great as Cole is, that’s not a spot to go to with a starting pitcher with one career relief appearance since high school. You don’t want to make your second relief appearance in the seventh inning of a one-run Game 7 and a runner on base.

Harris was the man for that job. He’s their most trusted reliever. He was filthy in the regular season and even nastier in the postseason. If Harris does his job, the Astros get out of that inning and can still go to Cole in the eighth with the lead.

So it was the right call to go to Harris. And I could even make the argument that the pitch that Harris threw to Kendrick was the right call too.

Harris threw Kendrick a cutter, the kind of pitch Kendrick hadn’t done anything with all season, and Kendrick did just enough to clank it off the foul pole. In another park, that might not go out. But it was just enough last night.

There’s a really good chance that AJ Hinch is waking up this morning and second guessing himself. Or maybe he couldn’t fall asleep in the first place. I don’t know if he made all the right decisions last night, but I’m not going to say that because the results went wrong, the decisions were wrong. You can make all the right decisions and still get bad results.

From a Houston perspective, going to Harris was the right call. And even throwing Kendrick a cutter was the right call. But Kendrick did what he’s been doing in these moments with it.

From a Houston perspective, that was bad. And Roberto Osuna made it even worse and by the time the ninth rolled around it didn’t matter who was pitching. Should Hinch have gone to Cole in the 8th? I can see the argument for that. It’s a 3-2 game, keep it close and keep the pressure on Washington instead of watching Osuna give up another run and then have the game get blown open in the ninth.

But here’s the real story here: it didn’t matter who the Astros sent out there. You weren’t beating the Nationals last night with just two runs.

And I’m not sure you were beating the Nationals last night period. If the Nationals are in a must-win game, they are going to win that game. That’s just how it is. Did you see them against the Brewers? Did you see them against the Dodgers? Did you see them in Game 6?

Think of the guys they’ve beaten in this postseason: Josh Hader, Clayton Kershaw, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, and Justin Verlander again.

From the start of the postseason, they’ve had that look. And they kept that look. AJ Hinch could’ve gone to Dennis Eckersley, Mariano Rivera, and Trevor Hoffman out of the bullpen and Washington probably still wins that game. That’s just how locked in and how special they are.

Houston’s problem last night wasn’t the pitching moves, it was the fact that they couldn’t move runners across home plate. They had one chance after another and they couldn’t convert. And it is going to haunt them for a long, long time. Incredible regular season, great postseason, but a brutal end that will stick. Don’t hang that on AJ Hinch. In fact, don’t hang that on the Astros.  Credit the Nats. Houston didn’t lose that.  The Nationals ripped it from them.  Just as they ripped it from the Cards, Dodgers and Brewers. They were just better.