It’s really unfortunate that the debacle that was the 9th inning of today’s game will go on to overshadow the excellent performance of Lorenzo Cain as well as the very solid pitching performance turned in today by Randy Wolf.
However, if you look at the Leverage Index at the bottom of the graph, you’ll see why. The plate appearances in the 9th inning were, far and away, the most important plate appearances of the game, even if it shouldn’t have been that way. Ryan Braun misplayed a ball in left field, making up for a couple solid plays that he made earlier in the game. Then Wolf was removed from the game, and John Axford struggled. Axford allowed a double and a hit by pitch before things really turned ridiculous.
After a Yadier Molina strikeout brought up Aaron Miles up with two outs, I was sure that the game would be over. John Axford is a good Major League pitcher and Aaron Miles is Aaron Miles. However, Miles made solid contact in the direction of the first base bag, which is good enough to get a ball past Prince Fielder. That error brought in the second run of the game, leaving 1st and 3rd with 2 outs for Colby Rasmus, who Axford promptly walked on four pitches – it’s possible that we saw Axford’s limit as far as pitches thrown in two appearances, as he threw 45 pitches between Tuesday night’s game and Wednesday’s game.
For that reason, it just may have been the correct call to bring in a new pitcher into the highest leverage situation, non-extra innings division, in baseball – two outs, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded. I would’ve rather seen almost any other pitcher in the bullpen in that situation, as Hoffman has been among the most hittable pitchers in baseball this year, and it’s not as if he has avoided walks well either. Still, there is margin for error when facing a hitter such as Brendan Ryan, who has a .284 OBP this year. Ryan almost took Hoffman’s first pitch down the left field line for a base hit that surely would have won the game, but it landed barely foul. Then, Hoffman made two pitches that looked quite hittable, but Ryan fouled off the first and swung right through the second – fittingly, one of his trademark changeups.
So that’s how Hoffman reaches 598 saves, by coming into the single highest leverage situation in baseball and getting the job done. Not exactly how I would’ve drawn it up, but adds up to a Brewers victory and a series victory over the Cardinals, even though I was left shaking my head and laughing at the events that led up to it.