ARLINGTON — Angels manager Joe Maddon has long been known for being unconventional throughout his 19-year career as a Major League manager.
But he took it to the extreme Friday, opting to intentionally walk Texas slugger Corey Seager with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning to bring home a run after the Rangers were already ahead.
Maddon called on right-hander Austin Warren to intentionally walk the left-handed-hitting Seager to get to right-handed batters Mitch Garver and Adolis García. The Rangers went on to score three runs as a result, but the Angels came back in an eventual 9-6 win.
“I thought by walking Seager, it would avoid the big blow,” Maddon said. “And just to stir up the group, quite frankly. It’s not something you normally do. I thought by going up there and doing something like that, the team might respond to something like that.”
Seager looked confused by the decision, as did Angels superstar Mike Trout when the television cameras panned to him in center field. Warren also said he was surprised by the decision, but he trusted his manager.
“Absolutely, it surprised me, but I’m not going to tell Joe Maddon no,” Warren said. “I trust Maddon a lot and it worked out.”
Seager entered the night a career .305/.380/.520 hitter against right-handers, which played into Maddon’s decision. But Warren had actually held lefties to a career .461 OPS compared to a .614 OPS against right-handers. Garver doesn’t have huge splits either — he had a career .821 OPS against righties and an .863 OPS against lefties — while García has had reverse splits in his career with a .756 OPS against righties and a .662 OPS against lefties.
The move backfired, as Garver hit a deep drive to right-center field for a sacrifice fly, while Warren balked with García at the plate to bring home another run. It capped a five-run inning that gave Texas a 6-2 lead.
“I’ve seen it done to the best hitter in the game in Barry Bonds,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “It’s obviously a compliment to Seager, to how good he is. Who knows, maybe it’s a grand slam or maybe it’s a double play? But that wasn’t the reason they won. They didn’t get out of it because of that. And because of that, we ended up scoring a few runs.”
It was just the eighth time on record a hitter had been walked intentionally with the bases loaded. The two recent examples are the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton in 2008 and Barry Bonds in 1998 (more on those below). Every other known instance happened prior to baseball’s integration in 1947: Bill Nicholson in 1944, Mel Ott in 1929, Del Bissonette in 1928, Nap Lajoie in 1901 and Abner Dalrymple in 1881.
Maddon was the opposing manager when he opted to intentionally walk Hamilton with the bases loaded on Aug. 17, 2008. But it was a much different situation, because the then-Maddon-led Rays were leading the Rangers by four runs with two outs in the ninth when Hamilton was issued the free pass. Tampa Bay got the win with Marlon Byrd striking out to end the game.
Bonds was also intentionally walked in the ninth inning of an 8-7 loss to the D-backs on May 28, 1998. That walk also came with two outs in the ninth, before Brent Mayne lined out to right field to end the game.
Maddon earned a reprieve, however, when the Angels came back with five runs of their own in the fifth inning, keyed by a solo homer from Kurt Suzuki and a two-run shot from Shohei Ohtani for his second homer of the game. Jared Walsh tied the game with an RBI single and scored the go-ahead run on a sacrifice fly from Brandon Marsh. Walsh gave the Halos two more insurance runs with a two-run blast in the seventh.
“Whatever it did, it sparked us,” Warren said. “Because we put up five runs the next inning. So it all worked out.”
The Rangers, on the other hand, would not score again after their five-run fourth inning. Woodward emphasized that the lack of execution on the pitching side was the reason for the loss, not the intentional walk.
“I think everybody was [surprised],” Woodward said. “I don’t think anybody expected it, you know, [up] 3-2 at the time. I don’t really have a comment on that either way. I was actually happy because Mitch Garver gets to hit now. I mean, he just missed a grand slam. I mean, you could look at it in hindsight and say it worked. It didn’t work. We didn’t execute after that. We had a 6-2 lead. We should win.”