The Boston Red Sox saved their best for last on Thursday. Tied 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Red Sox offense went on to score three runs, matching their run total of the first eight innings. The culmination of the three-run winning rally, and subsequent 6-3 victory, was a three-run home run hit by Red Sox designated hitter, David Ortiz, who provided a glimpse into why he has been one of the most valuable hitters for the Red Sox this season.
Although Ortiz’s home run heroics will receive much of the attention surrounding the game, as suggested from my headline, entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the Red Sox should have felt good about their chances of gaining the victory. Given their home-field advantage, which allowed them to be up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied 3-3, the Red Sox had a win expectancy of 65.2 percent before Jonny Gomes even stepped in the batter’s box.
Then the momentum of the contest took an even more decidedly Red Sox turn. Facing Rangers relief pitcher Michael Kirkman, Gomes laced a double to center field. The double, which put Gomes into scoring position, was worth a win probability added of .169, making it almost as valuable as the home run Ortiz later hit.
After Gomes’s double, Rangers manager Ron Washington made an exceedingly curious decision, electing to intentionally walk Dustin Pedroia. One can only surmise that Washington’s decision to walk Pedroia in order to pitch to one of the most feared hitters in the major leagues was fueled by the desire to take advantage of a lefty on lefty match-up.
On one hand, Washington’s decision made sense. Ortiz has struggled against left-handed pitching all season, posting only a batting line of .250 BA/.307 OBP/.456 SLG with a .329 wOBA in 68 plate appearances. Contrast that with the fact Ortiz hits .382 BA/.466 OBP/.753 SLG with a .502 wOBA in 89 plate appearances, and you can see that facing a left-handed pitcher turns Ortiz into more of a mortal hitter.
Of course, Ortiz’s mortality is really only going to be apparent if he is facing a quality left-handed pitcher, one who can claim to dominate left-handed hitters. Kirkman is not one of those pitchers. For the season, in which he has faced 44 left-handed batters, Kirkman has given up a hitting line of .342 BA/.386 OBP/.610 SLG with a .425 wOBA; he has actually been marginally better against right-handed batters, but that is not saying much.
Platoon advantages have their limits, and one limit is when a pitcher cannot retire same-handed batters, which Kirkman has consistently failed to do this season.
Kirkman has struggled all season, even against left-handed batters, and there should be little surprise that his match-up with Ortiz ended with Ortiz homering and putting the finishing touches on a tidy Red Sox victory.
The Red Sox surely have to be happy that Ron Washington seemingly managed to put them in an advantageous position, trusting one of the worst relief pitchers on his staff to pitch to one of the best hitters in the majors. As a result, the Red Sox saw their record improve to 37-24 for the season and their American League East lead stay at 1.5 games.