Dusty Baker receives advice from several places. He talks to his deceased dad in his head; he checks charts; he listens to what percolates up from his gut after 50 years in Major League Baseball.
He was unsure what to do en route to the mound Wednesday night in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series which Houston trailed, 3-0. Zack Greinke -- whose removal pivoted Game 7 of the World Series last year -- was on the mound. Two runners were on base, the Astros held a 4-2 lead and postseason lightning strike Randy Arozarena was at the plate.
Arozarena, relentlessly hot in October, homered off Greinke in his prior at-bat. Baker mulled this reality as he went toward the mound. Houston closer Ryan Pressly was ready, and Baker thought during his walk he should bring Pressly in.
“This is the ballgame right here,” Baker said afterward.
He talked to catcher Martin Maldonado, who told him they could get Arozarena out. Greinke stood silent and stoic, his de facto manner. Baker left him in, turned, walked back, and said a couple prayers en route to the dugout. Arozarena struck out. Ji-Man Choi then hit a shift single off the end of his bat to load the bases. Mike Brosseau struck out on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning.
"I usually don't change my mind,” Baker said. “But I hadn't had my mind really, really made up until I got out there and I saw the look in Zack's eyes. Maldy was adamant about he can get this guy. I said, 'OK, you got it then.' This is the ballgame right here. It was more old school, doing the right thing that I thought was right. And we came out ahead."
Baseball is flooded with analytics. A common criticism of Baker is he does not listen to them often enough. He will respond to that by saying he considers the information provided while also considering a half-century in the major leagues. He’s a people person, people are playing, he sometimes makes decisions in that vein.
Wednesday’s choice led him back to Max Scherzer. Baker explained a look in a pitcher’s eye can be indicative of his mound status, no matter what he says. That becomes trickier when the pitcher being addressed has two different colored eyes, the way Scherzer does.
“My plan was to take [Greinke] out, but I wasn’t really convinced of my plan,” Baker said. “Sometimes you look in the guy’s eyes and sometimes you listen to the catcher. Sometimes you do what you got to do. Sometimes, I remember one time I was going to take Scherzer out and I wasn’t sure. In Washington. He has two different colored eyes. One’s brown and one’s blue. Sometimes, you look in their eyes and they’re blinking and you can tell they're rattled and a little bit nervous. And I asked Scherzer which eye I should look at. He told me the blue eye. So I looked at the blue eye. I left him in there and it worked.”
There’s no section on Fangraphs or a spreadsheet generated by an Ivy League education that deals with heterochromia iridum, the condition of having two different colored eyes. And, there’s no space in either place for what Baker chooses to do. He’s going to listen to his inner monologue and, sometimes, conduct an eye test to help make a decision. For better or worse.
“Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t,” Baker said.