Dusty Baker still gets the question.
No matter that he’s managing his fourth different team, that more than 18 years have passed since his infamous decision in a World Series game, or that the Giants have won three championships since.
“I’m still hearing about Russ Ortiz, and that was what, 2002?” Baker said. “I’ll see people on the street, and they’re like, ‘Dusty, why’d you take Russ out?’”
Why did he take him out? Because he felt it was the right thing to do, much as Rays manager Kevin Cash did in pulling Blake Snell in Game 6 last year.
Baker’s Giants were up 5-0 on the Angels, seven outs from clinching the championship. Ortiz had been cruising, but he’d just allowed back-to-back, one-out singles and was approaching 100 pitches. Baker had his bullpen ready.
One inning, four relievers and eight batters later, the Giants were behind. They lost the game, then the Series the next night.
“You live with these things forever,” said Baker, now the Astros’ manager. “These things never go away. You’ve got to let it go away. It doesn’t go away with other people, but you’ve got to let it go away with yourself.”
Cash is well aware he will continue to hear plenty about his own controversial decision — from friends, media, fans, even the random smart aleck, like th Wendy’s social media manager who recently zinged him on National Roast Day.
In case, somehow, you don’t remember: The Rays led the Dodgers 1-0 in the sixth. Snell, who’d been sharp, allowed a one-out single on just his 73rd pitch. Nick Anderson, who came in to relieve, gave up the lead. An hour later, the Dodgers were celebrating the title.
“I know that Game 6 will continue to come up, and that’s fair,” Cash said Friday. “Saying that, this team was tremendous. They were a great team. And that is what I hope we’re all focusing on, just how talented, how special the group (was and) came together. And what was accomplished in 2020.”
A.J. Hinch knows how Cash is feeling. Though Hinch led the Astros to the 2017 World Series title, he was on the wrong side in 2019, losing Games 6 and 7 at home to the Nationals. And he heard plenty about it, especially for taking out Zack Greinke after 6-1/3 innings and not bringing in Gerrit Cole in the deciding game.
Hinch texted Cash the day after the 2020 Series ended.
“I’ve been in that chair before where you have a tough decision,” said Hinch, who now manages the Tigers. “Some of them work out. When it doesn’t, it’s the loneliest feeling in the world, especially on the big stage of the World Series.
“... When you make a decision that you think is in the best interest of your team and it doesn’t work out, it sucks for everybody — fans, coaches, players and, especially, the manager.”
Angels and former Rays and Cubs manager Joe Maddon knows the feeling. His usage of closer Aroldis Chapman during the 2016 Series remains a topic of consternation, even though his Cubs eventually won.
So does Joe Girardi, who managed the Yankees into the playoffs six times in 10 years but won only one championship.
“I feel for Kevin,” Girardi said. “Because I’ve been in those situations where I’ve made decisions that haven’t worked out. It’s a decision that we’ve made all year long, and it’s worked every time. And then, all of a sudden, it’s a big decision because of the magnitude of the game.”
If asked now, Cash will say what he did following the loss: He made what he felt was the right decision but got the wrong result. It was based on what he saw and felt, not a pre-scripted plan from the front office. And it was consistent with how he has managed, being aggressive in going to the bullpen early.
Even Snell, as frustrated as he was to be taken out, understood why Cash did it, saying so after the game and writing it in a recent post for The Players’ Tribune.
“The fact is: I have the utmost respect for Kevin Cash. And it’s not like he was trying to lose. He did what he thought was best. My dad was my manager coming up, and I really appreciate how tough that job is. You won’t see me get mad at a manager.
“He has to live with his decisions, just like I have to live with my performances. He wanted to win as much as anybody. Sometimes things just don’t work out.”
Whether they said they agreed with what Cash did or wouldn’t quite say that they didn’t (”If a guy’s dealing you let him keep dealing,” Baker said), other managers applauded his consistency in decision-making.
Colorado’s Bud Black noted Cash’s conviction in doing so. So did Seattle’s Scott Servais and Baltimore’s Brandon Hyde.
“That was the recipe that had gotten them to that point,” said Texas manager Chris Woodward. “He was honestly courageous in that moment in a lot of ways. Some people agreed with it, some people didn’t. That’s life.
“As a manager, inside I was kind of cringing just thinking about having to make that decision. If it’s something that I’ve done the whole year, and now in the heat of the moment I’m not going to go with it? It was a tough one for him, obviously.”
Worse than going with what had worked previously would have been to not, said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, a former Rays coach under Cash.
“I bet if Kevin didn’t make that decision and went a different way, thinking that was the right decision to make and that didn’t work out, I think he would have had a lot tougher time,” Baldelli said.
Was Cash being stubborn in sticking to his strategy? Not giving enough weight to how well Snell was pitching? Or how Anderson had not been?
“He knows his club better than everybody else,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton, another former Rays coach. “I think a lot of people put stock in that was a purely analytical move. Knowing Kevin, that’s not it. Kevin is a very smart baseball person, and there was a lot to go into it.
“... What he did was what he felt was right. He put himself in a position all year long by making moves that he felt were right, and he was in Game 6 of the World Series.
“It was his decision,” Shelton continued. “He stood by it. He owned up to it. I would trade places at any point in managing Game 6 of the World Series instead of watching it from my couch.”
Indians manager Terry Francona, a close friend and mentor to Cash, was impressed with how Cash handled the decision, as well as the fallout.
“He earned the right to be in that position,” Francona said. “The one thing I told him after was I applaud him for doing what he thinks is right. That’s the way they did it all year. And they got to Game 6 in the World Series.
“... Sometimes when you get in those positions, you’re going to be open for criticism. That’s part of the game. I think Cashy learned early on really well: You make your decision. You have enough confidence in what you’re doing that you answer the questions. And then you move on. And that’s what he did. And I was really proud of him for that.”
Even if he is still hearing about it 20 years from now.