LOS ANGELES -- Old-school-baseball convention dictates that teams should hold their closers for save situations. New-school strategy suggests that closers, who are generally their teams' best relievers, should pitch in tie games regardless of the inning.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose faded jean jacket belies the fact that he is decidedly new school, defied that line of thinking Sunday in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World, holding closer Wade Davis for a save situation that never arose. Rather than use his best reliever in a 1-1 game with one on and two out in the ninth inning, Maddon called upon starting pitcher John Lackey, who walked Chris Taylor and served up Justin Turner's walk-off homer for a 4-1 Cubs loss to the Dodgers.
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Davis has yet to appear in the best-of-seven series, which the Cubs now trail, 2-0.
"I really just needed him for the save tonight," Maddon said. "He had limited pitches. It was one inning only, and in these circumstances, you don't get him up and then don't get him in. So if we had caught the lead, he would have pitched. That's it."
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The Cubs have been careful with Davis in recent days, checking on him daily since he threw a season-high 44 pitches over 2 1/3 innings in Game 5 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. Before Sunday's game, Maddon spoke with Davis, deciding to limit him to one inning.
That did not mean Maddon had to hold Davis for a save situation; he could have used his best reliever in the ninth, hoping to give Lackey (or another pitcher) a lead in extras. But with a single inning from Davis at his disposal, Maddon said he was "waiting for that opportunity" to grab a lead. And Davis didn't argue.
"You take the ball when the manager asks you to take the ball," Davis said.
The situation unfolded similarly to the 2016 American League Wild Card Game, which the Orioles lost to the Blue Jays without ever using their best pitcher, closer Zach Britton.
Fans and pundits skewered Orioles manager Buck Showalter for leaving his AL Cy Young Award candidate on the bench for 11 innings, and the rest of the postseason became a showcase for star relievers in the highest-leverage spots -- Andrew Miller of the Indians, Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers and even Albertin Chapman of the Cubs.
Sunday was different. Sunday, Maddon eschewed Davis in favor of Lackey, a starter pitching on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career. Unlike Davis, who allowed six home runs over 58 2/3 innings in the regular season, Lackey was coming off one of his worst seasons as a professional, which included a league-leading 36 homers. The Cubs did not use him at all in the NLDS.
"I'm just betting on his experience right there as much as anything," Maddon said. "I really thought that John would not be affected by the moment."
"It's hard to question what Joe does," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "Joe's very good over there, and he knows his personnel considerably more than I do. But obviously [Davis is] their best back there at the back end, so we certainly liked the matchup [with Lackey]."
Turner came away thrilled with it, hitting the first walk-off homer of his career. And the Cubs limped home with a 2-0 series deficit, perhaps wondering what could have been had they managed things differently.
"You want to be in these games," Lackey said. "It's not typical of when I'm usually in them, but you've still got to try to get the job done."