Perhaps the best moment from an entertaining baseball game last night came with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning. John Lackey, who had been hosed on a brutal call on the 3-2 pitch to Jorge Posada (great reaction from the pitcher there, too), had nevertheless fought through to the point that one more out meant no runs would cross the plate. It was 4-0 Anaheim with struggling switch-hitter Mark Teixeira coming to the plate.
At this point, you can look at numbers. Teixeira is a very robust .388 career hitter against Lackey in 49 ABs, including a pair of home runs. His history against lefty Darren Oliver, warming in the bullpen, was a far less complete but still impressive 2-for-3. Lackey had thrown 104 pitches to that point. You can look at all sorts of career splits for Lackey that tell you after pitch 75 in a game he's less effective.
But numbers can't tell you everything you need to know about when to make a pitching change. Indeed, we have to think it's one of the hardest in-game decisions managers have to make. Pitching changes like the one last night are as much about stats and lefty-righty matchups as they are about the texture of the situation. Lackey clearly wanted the ball. In the video below, you can see him pleading to stay in (though we believe that was manager Mike Scioscia's second trip to the mound that inning, so no amount of Jack Morris-esque pleading was going to keep Lackey in the game). "This is mine. ... This is mine. ... You kidding me? This is mine," is what we read on Lackey's lips.
Scioscia went with Oliver, the Yankees scored six runs and, we thought, the series was history. It's a supreme credit to the Angels that in their very next turn at bat they stuck three more runs up and held on for a 7-6 win. Seriously, that would have been a folding point for a lot of teams, particularly with the run the Yankees are on. Should Scioscia have stuck with Lackey? We're trying not to base our answer on the outcome, but it's difficult because the meltdown seemed so possible once Lackey left. We would have gone with the bulldog who wanted the ball, but that's what makes baseball great. There's no perfect answer to a unique situation like a pitching change. In football, basketball and hockey, a top player can get a quick rest and come right back in. Baseball? There's no turning back, and you either succeed or fail.
There would probably be 5 times the scrutiny on last night's decision if the Angels hadn't come back to win. As it is, Scioscia, Lackey and Oliver live to see another game. Maybe the pitching decision will be different next time ... and maybe it will be right or wrong again for an entirely different reason.