During the hours when the World Series is not actually in progress, the proper passion of fans is second-guessing. Few games are richer in opportunities for the backward inquisitorial glance than the pivotal fifth game of the Series and few managers more vulnerable than Kansas City's Jim Frey. His decisions Sunday, right or wrong, take us to the heart of baseball.
In the third inning, Royals on first and second with none out, game scoreless, should he have had Willie Wilson sacrifice bunt? Factors: slow Darrell Porter on second base; Wilson is a poor bunter, but almost impossible to double on a grounder; Wilson in a terrible slump, and he hasn't tested the Phils with a bunt yet. Frey theory: always, like Earl Weaver, play for the big blow-out inning, especially with the top of the order coming up; don't sacrifice an out. Result: Wilson flies out. No runs score.
Second guess: Frey should have bunted because he had enough of both pitchers to anticipate a low-scoring game in shadowy, poor-hitting conditions.
In the Phillie sixth with one out, K.C. ahead, 3-2, Greg Luzinski walks and Keith Moreland singles off ylarry Gura. Frey yanks Gura after 77 pitches, calls for Dan Quisenberry.
Second guess: Gura had not had to work out of a jam in the entire game with no runner getting past first base, except for a man-on-first homer by Mike Schmidt.If an 18-game winner, who is well-rested and has the second-best winning percentage in the AL over the past five years (.656), can't work out of one jam before he's hooked, then you're not going to win the Series anyway. Also, Frey called for short man Quisenberry in similar circumstances in the seventh inning of Game 2 and he couldn't finish. Leave Gura in, especially since you're still ahead by a run. If already behind by a run, then call a reliever.
In the seventh with two Royals on and K.C. still ahead, 3-2, Jose Cardenal pinch-hits for Clint Hurdle against Tug McGraw. Cardenal stays in the game and comes up again against McGraw in the ninth with the bases full and two out. Cardenal strands all five men.
Second guess: Hurdle, five for 12 in the Series, shouldn't have been removed because NLers know that McGraw's screwball is more vulnerable to lefties. Also, Hurdle hit .284 against southpaws in '80. If Hurdle must be hit for, then use John Wathan, who, despite being zero for 19 in postseason career, hit .305 in '80. Under no conditions use Cardenal, who hasn't hit above .250 in four years. Hurdle and Wathan are part of the future of the franchise and must be reinforced. "The World Series is no place to be building confidence," said Frey. He's wrong, at least with a young club that can come back to the Series again. Cardeanl won't be back. Hurdle and Wathan will. Trust your best players, even if, as with Gura, you don't think they're top clutch players.
Before bottom of ninth, George Brett asks Frey if he should play in to prevent a bunt by leadoff man Mike Schmidt or play deep. "Don't give him the blunt," says Frey. Schmidt smashes gounder off Brett's glove that would be routine out if he were playing deep.
Second guess: Brett should have played back without any questions. If Schmidt, the major league home run leader, lays down a bunt, either good or bad, the Royals should vote him a full Series share and the Phils should mug him when he gets back to the bench. If Phils are two or more runs down, then bunt by Schmidt is a good team play, since a homer can't tie the game and base runners are the paramount need. But, one run down in the ninth, Schmidt must try to drive the ball, hoping for extra bases. Few great sluggers in the history of baseball have bunted in this situation. To do so would be an admission that they don't think they can hit for power in the clutch.
Willie Aikens, the worst defensive player on Royals, is left at first base to start the ninth despite a one-run Royal lead and defensively decent Pete LaCock on the bench. Frey reasons that Aikens is due up third in the bottom of ninth and, should the Phils score, he'll need him. Aikens misses a hard grounder by Del Unser that goes for a double; it is the big hig in the game-winning rally.
Second guess: Not this time. This is a close call. Frey flipped a coin and lost. LaCock has trouble hitting and he can't field that well, either. As long as Aikens is one of first five hitters in the ninth, leave him in and hold your breath.
Except for the defensive alignment of Brett against Schmidt, all these decisions are hairsbreadth questions and hardly mistakes in any real sense. Any Series game has such crises of strategy in each inning. However, those who make the decisions must always first-guess, not second-guess, and that is much harder.