This is what Matt Holliday had to say about the intentional walk given to Todd Helton in the bottom of the ninth so that Brian Wilson could pitch to Garrett Atkins instead from Tracy Ringolsby's Rocky Mountain News wrap of last night's game:
"That's a lot of respect," Holliday said. "I understand the right- left situation, but Garrett is hitting (.335). That's a little risky. With Willy (Taveras, pinch running), Garrett hits a hard single and Willy can score the winning run."
Nothing against Holliday, Ringolsby or Troy Renck, who similarly ignored the real point, but I think they've got the story reversed here. It's not respect to the bat of Helton that Bochy was showing, but disrespect to the bat of Atkins. And frankly, Garrett's earned this late game dis of late.
Let's go into Bochy's mind for a second and see how tough this decision is:
You can pitch to Garrett Atkins, a guy whose three most crucial at bats of the season before last night went like this:
- April 17 - Kevin Cameron pitching, top of the 14th, all squared at nothing, the bases loaded, one out. Garrett Atkins popped out to shortstop.
- May 5 - Jason Isringhausen pitching, bottom of the ninth, the Rockies losing six to five with one out and the tying run on first. Garrett Atkins grounded into a double play to end the ballgame.
- May 10 - Trevor Hoffman pitching in the top of the ninth, the Rockies losing three to two with a runner on first. Garrett Atkins struck out swinging.
And in whose twenty most leveraged plate appearances this season before last night saw him have as many GIDP's as he had hits (3, all singles). Other pitchers have been going right after him, too, as Garrett's picked up zero walks in those situations. His vital line in the 20 most crucial times he came to the plate in 2008 before last night was .166/.150/.166 (a sac fly with no walks drops his OBP below his average).
Todd Helton, who also only had three hits in his twenty most leveraged plate appearances, but who was sporting a vital line of .231/.500/.308 with seven walks (including two intentional passes before last night) in them.
I don't know, I think just maybe Bochy made the right call here.
What's more, if you go back to last season, Garrett doesn't look much better in the clutch. Coincidently, and rather painfully for yours truly, Atkins single most leveraged plate appearance in 2007 occurred exactly one year before last night on a Sunday afternoon that try as I might to forget, is permanently scarred in my memory, especially now that the Rockies seem to want to remind me with a similar set-up.
Joakim Soria of the Royals got into a jam before Buddy Bell had to make the exact same choice as Bochy. They intentionally walked Helton to load the bases and face Atkins in a four to four tie game in the bottom of the ninth. With a hit, a walk, anything, Garrett could have won the game for the Rockies. What happened? Garrett struck out. The Rox wound up losing ten to five in extras in what was unquestionably the lowest point in the season.
When was Atkins' last walk-off hit? April 21, 2006, off of Armando Benitez. Atkins actually came up with a few big hits in that 2006 season, but his bat has been quiet when we need it the most since then. Until Atkins starts actually doing something in these key situations to make the decision difficult, you can expect this perceived respect of Helton to continue to grow.