Dusty Baker wasn’t only managing to avoid a sweep in the ALCS, but from the time he was announced as manager following the suspensions of manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for the Astros World Series cheating scandal, he was burdened with navigating the team through what would be a redemption tour of sorts.
After enduring some beanballs, purpose pitches and clear messages sent by opposing pitchers, as well as being run through the coals on social media and other sports mediums, Houston settled into the COVID-19, 60-game season and made a late surge to slide into the 16-team playoffs as a sixth seed.
The Astros haven’t had much support outside of their fans and people who genuinely want to see Dusty Baker finally win a title. The baseball world is still seething in the aftermath of the cheating scandal that led to an executive clearinghouse and stained reputations across the board. It was rough in Spring Training, but not having fans in the stands for the regular season — and Baker’s reputation as an upstanding, credible baseball guy — has certainly softened the fallout.
Baker’s technical mind and baseball savvy was on full display on Wednesday night in Game 4 of the ALCS. It wasn’t a computer or the crunching of numbers that led the Astros to a clutch win, staving off elimination. It was all Dusty and his baseball gut. Remember when managers used to utilize that talent?
First, Dusty switched a struggling Jose Altuve from second to third in the lineup. Altuve has hit solidly but his defensive lapses have contributed to the Stros going down in the series and Baker needed to get his confidence going. Sometimes you just have to shake things up.
It worked wonders as the former batting champion hit a first-inning homer (his second in as many nights) against a pitcher Tyler Glasnow, who was 11-0 in previous starts.
Then in the sixth inning, after George Springer homered to give the Stros a 4-2 lead, Astros pitcher Zack Greinke got in a jam with two men on and just one out. Baker had the bullpen going and went out to the mound, apparently to take Greinke out, with the hottest hitter in the game, Randy Arozarena coming to the dish.
However, Dusty left Greinke in the game and the former Cy Young award winner gets Arozarena to K on an offspeed pitch down and out of the zone, as Dusty pumps his fist from the top step of the dugout.
Baker’s show of confidence in his pitcher worked wonders for Greinke’s mental state.
“It’s nice just having someone have confidence in me,” Greinke told reporters after the game. Since I’ve been here, they haven’t seemed to have confidence in my ability, so it was nice having that happen at an important time like that.”
Greinke wasn’t done. After a single, the bases were loaded and Dusty had another opportunity to get Greinke out of there. Most other managers would have made a move. Dusty stuck with Greinke and he got another batter to chase a pitch for strike three, ending the inning.
“I usually don’t change my mind but I hadn’t had my mind really, really made up until I got out there and saw the look in Zach’s eyes…he can get this guy,” said Baker following the dramatic win.
When you’re down 3-0 in a series and the metrics and analytics are failing you, it’s important to have a manager who has the experience, confidence and authority to go with his gut because that’s the difference between winning and losing.
Down 3-0, you throw the numbers out of the window and rely on old fashion baseball wherewithal. Moments like Game 4 of the ALCS is why Dusty Baker was hired and why he’s a Hall of Fame manager with hopes still very much alive of nailing down his first World Series title.