John Farrell’s Questionable Bullpen Decision Costs Red Sox in Crushing Loss to Giants

Brayan VillarrealJohn Farrell had a brain fart.

That’s the easiest and most accurate way to describe Farrell’s handling of the bullpen in the ninth inning of the Red Sox’ 3-2 loss to the Giants on Tuesday.

Franklin Morales started the ninth inning in what was his most meaningful outing since being activated off the disabled list on Aug. 10. He gave up a one-out single to Roger Kieschnick with the score tied at two apiece and then lost his control while facing back-to-back pinch-hitters with two outs. Morales walked Andres Torres and drilled Hector Sanchez, loading the bases for Marco Scutaro.

Farrell opted to take the ball from Morales at that point. Understandable. The only problem was that Farrell handed it to the wrong guy.

Farrell summoned Brayan Villarreal from the bullpen. Villarreal — acquired as part of the Jake Peavy trade — was activated from the disabled list by Pawtucket last week and called up Monday amid Boston’s flurry of roster moves. The right-hander hadn’t pitched in a major league game since April 20.

That’s where the mystery begins. Clearly, it was a roll of the dice to go with Villarreal, regardless of all other circumstances. But Farrell’s decision is even more perplexing considering his reasoning.

“Franklin walks a guy and then he hits a guy after the base hit. With two outs, he’s up around 20 pitches or so and just the uncertainty of strikes,” Farrell said. “Seemingly in that quick span, [Morales] seemed to lose his release point.”

There’s no denying that Morales didn’t have it Tuesday. But if Farrell’s decision was based on “uncertainty of strikes,” then how could he possibly justify turning to Villarreal?

Villarreal’s biggest vice is his lack of control. He had 35 walks in 43 2/3 innings between the majors and minors before entering Tuesday’s game. Throwing him into a bases-loaded situation with the game on the line just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The decision is even more baffling because Koji Uehara was still sitting down in the bullpen waiting for his number to be called. Uehara hasn’t pitched since Saturday and has only thrown 13 pitches in the last seven days. The Red Sox absolutely could have turned to Uehara — who is as certain as it gets when it comes to throwing strikes — yet Farrell never even considered such a move.

“I’m holding back on Koji because if we push across a run, he’s going to close the game out,” Farrell said.

Uehara never had a chance to close the game out because Villarreal missed with four straight pitches to walk in the winning run. It’s hard to blame Villarreal because he was pretty much set up to fail, but it’s totally within reason to blame Farrell, who played with fire when he didn’t need to.

It’s natural to slip up every now and then. Farrell just picked the wrong time to have his momentary lapse of judgment.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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