Intentional walk backfires on Crew in fifth inning
Roenicke reluctantly calls for free pass right before grand slam
PHOENIX -- It has been well documented that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke does not enjoy calling for an intentional walk. If the strategy does not work, the results can be ugly and a game's momentum can swing on a single pitch.
On Tuesday night, Roenicke encountered a situation that he felt warranted issuing a free pass, even if the idea makes him cringe. The move backfired in the form of a grand slam off the bat of D-backs rookie Paul Goldschmidt in the decisive fifth inning, sending Milwaukee to an 8-1 defeat in Game 3 of the National League Division Series.
Following the loss, Roenicke took his place at the podium in a room full of reporters. Before anyone in the crowd could ask a question, he decided to open the session with an inquiry to his audience.
"Do I get to ask the first question?" Roenicke said. "Before Goldschmidt went deep today, did you guys think that was the wrong move or the right move?"
That will surely be a debate among Brewers fans, considering Milwaukee's lead in the NLDS has been shaved to 2-1 in the best-of-five series with Game 4 scheduled for 8:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday night.
Maybe starter Shaun Marcum could have retired Arizona catcher Miguel Montero to end the fifth inning rather than issuing an intentional walk to load the bases. Maybe Goldschmidt never would have stepped into the batter's box for what turned into a five-run outpouring that had Arizona holding a comfortable 8-1 lead by the end of the frame.
There was one thing Marcum made crystal clear.
"It wasn't my decision," said the pitcher.
No, the call to put Montero on base came from Roenicke. The message was delivered by pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who jogged out to the mound with two outs, runners on second and third base and Montero looming. The D-backs catcher had already tagged Marcum for a run-scoring single and an RBI double earlier in the game.
With Milwaukee trailing, 3-1, Roenicke chose to take advantage of the open base and to play the percentages. Marcum and Goldschmidt would make for a righty-against-righty pairing, and the pitcher had induced a flyout from the first baseman in their previous meeting.
"I just thought today Montero looked pretty good against Shaun," Roenicke explained. "And I thought it was the right move. ... Montero scares me. Montero is a really good hitter. There's not a whole lot of places you can go with him. Even when you make good pitches, he's got a chance to hit.
"That's not to say that Goldschmidt isn't a good hitter, too. What I think he's doing so well is he's not missing mistakes. When he gets a mistake, he kills it."
Marcum backed up Roenicke's assessment by noting that both of Montero's hits had come on pitches that tailed out of the strike zone, and Goldschmidt's slam came on an offering that was located poorly.
The goal was to throw a fastball up and in to set up a subsequent pitch.
Instead, Goldschmidt received a heater right where he likes one.
"I'm sure he missed his spot," Goldschmidt said, "because it ended up down the middle, and I was able to get a good part of the bat on it."
Goldschmidt assumed correctly.
"I missed out over the middle of the plate," Marcum said. "That's what hitters do. If you make bad pitches, especially for him, he's a guy that needs the ball middle or middle away to do damage, and that's what it was. You make mistakes, that's what happens."
Marcum's preference would have been to go after Montero.
"We had an open base," he said. "I figured if I try to make him chase something out of the zone, not unintentionally intentionally walk him, but try to make him chase something out of the zone and get out of the inning there."
Roenicke said it is not always that simple.
"Pitching around people is difficult," said the manager. "Everybody thinks it's easy to do, but you get out there and you're the pitcher and you try to make a nasty pitch on a breaking ball and you spin it too much, and it hangs right in the middle of the plate. It's not easy to pitch around guys."
Adding to Marcum's frustration was the fact that he had a chance to escape the inning unscathed before being instructed to intentionally walk Montero.
D-backs pitcher Josh Collmenter opened the fifth inning with a single to right field and Willie Bloomquist followed with a base hit of his own. Marcum recovered by striking out Aaron Hill before forcing slugger Justin Upton to chop a pitch back to the mound.
On the play, Marcum fumbled the ball, gathered himself and threw Upton out at first base for the frame's second out. Had he fielded the ball cleanly, Milwaukee's starter might have had a chance to turn an inning-ending double play.
"I was upset that I didn't field it," Marcum said. "I thought it was coming back harder than it was. It just caught off the heel of the glove and got away from me a little bit, and we weren't able to get the double play there."
That missed chance led to one of Roenicke's least-favorite scenarios.
"You guys that have been with me," Roenicke said, "you know I don't like walking people. Here we go again."
A similar situation came up for the Brewers in the seventh inning against the Phillies on Sept. 9. Marcum was asked to intentionally walk Ryan Howard, who had homered off the right-hander earlier in the game, and Raul Ibanez followed with a run-scoring single that helped send Milwaukee to a loss.
Once again, the strategy came back to bite the Brewers.
Only this time, it became magnified on the October stage.
"It bites us because we make bad pitches," Roenicke said. "When you have an open base, I think that was the right move. I still do. But do I like it? No. I don't like it."