MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Farrell's use of Kimbrel correct despite result

Farrell's use of Kimbrel correct despite result

Forget the result. No manager can control that.

Manager John Farrell wasn't sleep-deprived because of the early Patriots' Day start on Monday in Boston. Turning to Craig Kimbrel in the eighth inning of the Red Sox's 4-3 loss shows he was on top of his game.

No, it didn't work. But Farrell went to his all-world closer at exactly the right time: with the score tied 1-1, one out and the bases loaded. He had hoped Koji Uehara would get through the eighth, but the setup man was all over the place.

With Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki scheduled to bat, the Red Sox's best chance to win was bringing in Kimbrel to get out of the mess. It turned out to be one of many intriguing decisions in a game that showed why you never assume anything in baseball.

As difficult as runs were to come by when starters J.A. Happ and Clay Buchholz were in the game, the teams traded blows in the late innings long enough that David Ortiz found himself with a chance to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter and win it in the ninth inning.

You figured he would, right? This felt for all the world like a Big Papi moment waiting to happen.

Storen earns the save

So naturally Ortiz took a called third strike and it was the visiting Blue Jays who celebrated on the Fenway infield.

Either way, what a great game. It meant a split of the four-game series for the Blue Jays on a long weekend that had started with Rick Porcello and David Price carrying the Old Towne Team to wins that had them nipping at the Orioles' heels in the American League East.

In the end, this was the kind of day it was for the Red Sox, on the third anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Russell Martin's two-out single off Kimbrel was the big blow. But it was the previous at-bat, when Tulowitzki took a 3-2 pitch for a run-scoring walk, that swung the game toward Toronto.

Don Zimmer certainly managed by his gut. Joe Morgan, the manager from Walpole, Mass., certainly didn't go by the book. But the easy thing for managers to do is to run their bullpen by the save rule, saving their closer until they have a lead. That's the way it has usually been done the past three decades.

But Farrell didn't think he could wait, and he was probably right.

Dave Dombrowski traded for Kimbrel last offseason after a 2015 season in which the Red Sox regularly had trouble getting leads to Uehara, who was 25-for-27 in save situations. The idea is that Uehara and right-hander Carson Smith (currently on the disabled list with a strained elbow) will join Kimbrel to give Boston a power bullpen that can compare to those in Kansas City and the Bronx.

The Red Sox haven't had all the pieces clicking yet, but Kimbrel has been OK -- the exception coming on April 11, when he got himself in trouble with walks and gave up a massive three-run homer to Chris Davis. Kimbrel struck out the side against the Blue Jays on Saturday and for the season had struck out 12 of 24 batters he'd faced, including eight of the past 12.

Farrell was looking for Kimbrel to strike out Encarnacion. He did that, on three pitches, giving himself a good chance to get out of the inning. The remaining obstacle was Tulowitzki, who has been reaching base less than 25 percent of the time.

Turns out Kimbrel couldn't execute a 3-2 pitch to Tulowitzki and Martin -- who might be just as important as Jose Bautista to Toronto's success -- hung tough after getting buzzed with a fastball on the first pitch.

More and more, managers are willing to use their closers the way Farrell did on Monday -- adjusting to the context of the game's narrative, not saving them for the counting statistic that has come to symbolize a productive closer.

This would have been bolder, cooler, if it had been the seventh inning, not the eighth. But still, you have to love a manager who doesn't save his closer for the save situation.

What situation has move impact on a game? Taking over a two- or three-run lead in the ninth inning or trying to keep it tied in the eighth?

That answer's obvious.

Farrell realized that and reacted. It didn't work out this time, but he went down being active, not passive. That's a victory in itself.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.