John Farrell is going with his gut.
Farrell announced Tuesday that Shane Victorino will return to the starting lineup for Game 6 of the World Series. But while that’s big news, it’s the inclusion of David Ross and Jonny Gomes in the Game 6 lineup that truly reflects Farrell’s continued willingness to play a hunch.
The Red Sox have won the last two games with Ross behind the plate. The 36-year-old provided the game-winning hit in the seventh inning of Game 5 — in addition to catching another gem from Jon Lester — and has served as somewhat of a field general. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, is hitting just .188 (6-for-32) with 19 strikeouts this postseason, and is 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in the World Series. Salty’s offensive woes are compounded by his costly defensive miscues in Games 2 and 3.
On the surface, the decision to go with Ross over Saltalamacchia for Game 6 seems like a no-brainer for Farrell. However, there’s no denying that Game 6 starter John Lackey has a great deal of chemistry with Saltalamacchia, whom the right-hander has repeatedly praised throughout the year.
Saltalamacchia caught 22 of Lackey’s 29 starts during the regular season. Ryan Lavarnway, who isn’t on Boston’s playoff roster, caught five, and Ross caught only two. In the postseason, Saltalamacchia has caught two of Lackey’s three starts. The one caught by Ross — Game 2 of the ALDS — happened to be Lackey’s worst performance this month, as he gave up four runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings despite defeating the Rays. Ross was also behind the plate for Lackey’s relief appearance in Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday, and the righty’s effort included a wild pitch that actually looked more like a passed ball.
None of this is to say that Ross is the wrong guy for the job in Game 6. It’s clear that the Red Sox’ pitching staff has a ton of trust in him — just as they do Saltalamacchia — and Ross has helped swing the series in Boston’s favor. But given the history between Lackey and Salty and the overall comfort level that seems to exist between the two, Farrell’s decision to stick with Ross for Game 6 certainly involves riding the hot hand.
“First of all, David has given us a spark offensively out of the position,” Farrell said Tuesday at Fenway Park. “And that’s not to be disrespectful to Salty in any way. We’ve had to try to jumpstart a couple of different positions from an offensive standpoint. And at the same time, David has done a great job with running the game from a game-calling perspective. That’s the trust of him being back behind the plate [in Game 6].”
The decision to go with Gomes over Daniel Nava in left field isn’t too shocking. Gomes has had a flair for the dramatic this year — see Game 4 of the World Series — and Farrell has previously expressed a desire to have Gomes’ energy and intangibles in the starting lineup. Nava remains the better hitter against right-handed pitching, though, and Gomes went 0-for-3 with a strikeout against Game 6 starter Michael Wacha in Game 2. Clearly, starting Gomes requires one to look beyond the box score.
“I can’t say that it’s because of the matchups in Game 2. Wacha was tough on all of us,” Farrell said Tuesday. “But you get to the point where you look at the style of pitcher on the mound in Wacha and you look at what certain hitters in our lineup are equipped to handle, and even though you might say, ‘Well, it’s a left-handed hitter, [Nava] should be in there,’ I like the matchup of Gomes versus Nava. That doesn’t mean at some point in the game that Nava is not going to be involved. But that’s the way we’re going right now.”
We won’t know until after Game 6 whether Farrell pulled the strings necessary to secure a World Series title. And all things considered, his logic for starting both Ross and Gomes is reasonable, regardless of whether you agree or not.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to act on instincts.