Pablo Lopez and the Minnesota Twins dominated the Astros in Game 2 of the ALDS, drawing even in the series. Framber Valdez was rocky and the Astros lineup by and large was overwhelmed.
To say they lost because of one play or player in particular would be foolish. That said, one specific decision did have massive ramifications on the outcome.
Pablo Lopez befuddled Astros hitters through the first four innings. Jeremy Peña stepped into the box to lead off the bottom of the fifth and laced a double off the left field wall, narrowly missing his first home run since July 5.
Peña also led off the third with a single, but was wiped out on a double play after Dusty Baker decided not to have Maldy bunt Peña over, and then didn't send him in a 3-2 count.
The Astros couldn't afford to squander another scoring chance. They were already trailing 5-0, and after combusting on the mound, Framber Valdez was out of the game.
Dusty Baker's blunder cost the Astros dearly in the ALDS
With a runner on second and the top of the order coming up in short order, the Astros nine-hitter was due up. Just one day prior the Astros had seen the Twins turn a 5-0 deficit into a one-run game in the blink of an eye.
Dusty Baker had a decision to make: does he send Maldy to the plate or does he pinch hit Yainer Diaz to try and get the Astros back into this one?
If Diaz strikes an extra-base hit, the Astros top of the order comes up threatening and Rocco Baldelli likely has to get some action going in the bullpen. It feels like a no-brainer. Sadly, it doesn't appear Baker even gave the decision a thought.
The Maldonado vs. Diaz debate is useless at this point. No matter what is said, done, or pointed out, right, wrong, or otherwise, Maldy is going to catch the majority of the starting staff.
That said, there is simply zero reason for Maldy to step into the box in the fifth.
The starter who demands he catch was out of the game. The deficit was already five, so what does it matter if the pitching staff is comfortable if you don't score any runs to erase the lead. And Yainer Diaz hit .332 with a .931 OPS against righties in 2023. Maldy hit an unfathomably bad .175 with a .538 OPS against righties.
If Houston had any aspirations of getting back into that game, they couldn't squander that chance. You have to at least break the seal.
But because Dusty "doesn't panic," or maybe because he has always resented young talent, Diaz continued getting splinters in his backside while Pablo Lopez made light work of the Astros catcher.
Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman were then retired in short order.
Does sending Yainer to the plate guarantee a hit? No. Should Altuve and Bregman have been able to at least get Peña home? Yes. Do either of those truths change how indefensible the choice was? Not hardly.
If Diaz can get to Lopez, there's a chance for the big inning that so often wins playoff baseball games. Instead, the Astros manager managed like it was a meaningless Spring Training game. It's hard to expect him to do otherwise when he managed all season with less than zero urgency.
Meanwhile, Rocco Baldelli pinch hit for Kyle Farmer in the top of the 7th. Farmer had already struck the two-run bomb off of Valdez that broke the game open, and the Twins had a five-run lead. Still, Baldelli managed with urgency and knows Kyle Farmer struggles against righties.
He sent Edouard Julien to the dish, and Julien struck a single off of Rafael Montero that extended the Twins lead to six. Baldelli held a five-run lead, looked at the opposing lineup, and hunted more runs.
The Twins and their manager were rewarded for their urgency and desire to win a baseball game. It would be nice if Houston's even pretended to share that same desire.