The Astros had the As exactly where they wanted them. A five run bottom of the fifth took the Astros from a two-run deficit to a three-run lead. The bats, which have been dormant all season, had woken up just in time and were powering our boys to a commanding position to sweep the series.
Dusty Baker played with fire in the 6th inning, bringing out Josh James. Dusty had not called upon James before in the postseason, preferring to choose better relievers. But with Enoli Paredes "for sure" unavailable to pitch, and Ryan Pressly limited to 1 inning at best, Dusty felt he had little choice.
James walked his first batter, but induced a double play grounder and another grounder to Carlos Correa to escape any damage. This pushed the Astros win probability to 91.1%.
But this was not vintage Josh James. James has a 34.1% K rate in his career, and a 34.5% whiff percentage. Grounders are not James game, and that he was not vintage James is demonstrated by the fact that he recorded no swings and misses in the 6th.
Dusty sent him out for the 7th, and James continued to find bats, but this time, all three As batters hit the ball hard, for two singles, and Chad Pinder's three run dagger. Dusty then called upon Brooks Raley, who threw 38(!) pitches. Raley managed the 7th, but his wildness (2 BB, 1 HBP), meant that a bloop double by Ramon Laureano was crippling.
Some will say Dusty had no choice. This is not true. Dusty could have pitched Cristian Javier, who was clearly the best reliever available to him. Javier had not pitched in Game 2, but Dusty clearly trusted him more than James (who he had not pitched previously in the postseason) or Raley (who had only pitched 2/3 of an inning). Javier had help batters to a .188/.262/.391 slash line on the season. Javier's stuff had played up in a relief role, and his fastball dominated both the Twins and As in his previous 5 postseason innings.
But Dusty didn't pitch Javier because he thought he would need him as a starting pitcher in Game 4. Zack Greinke has arm soreness, and it is unclear if the Astros best pitcher will be able to go this series. Dusty thought he needed Javier tomorrow.
But the superior option was to avoid playing tomorrow. The Astros bats had gifted Dusty a greater than 90% of chance of winning Game 3. They had the game by the throat, and only needed 9 outs to shut the door and move on.
Javier may the Astros best bet for Game 4, depending on the health of Zack Greinke. But he was definitely the Astros best bet in the 7th and 8th innings of Game 3. Instead, Dusty Baker made a passive decision, saving his bullets for a game he didn't have to play. He sent out relievers with a 7.06 and 4.95 ERA in 2020 and hoped they would pitch better than they had all season. The results were sadly predictable.
Dusty Baker played for tomorrow. But Game 4 is "if necessary" and a plan to pitch Game 4 was also "if necessary." By playing for tomorrow, Dusty lost today.