Jacob Webb sat at his locker, head slumped, processing what had just happened.
He’s no stranger to the playoffs; he pitched in five postseason games across 2020 and 2021 with the Braves. But this one — when he lasted just one-third of an inning — will haunt him.
On a day when the rest of the bullpen did its job on a short leash, Webb will be credited for giving up the winning run in the Rangers’ 3-2 victory in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Saturday at Camden Yards.
Manager Brandon Hyde has also been in the playoffs before as a bench coach with the Cubs. But this was the first glimpse into how he would handle his pitchers as the decision-maker in a postseason game. Every other pitching change was executed flawlessly. DL Hall lived up to the moment. Tyler Wells proved his worth in a new late-inning role. Danny Coulombe got out of a jam. Cionel Pérez took the ninth with Félix Bautista sidelined.
But then there was Webb, the one weak link on an otherwise stellar afternoon for the bullpen against a top-tier offense.
Hyde, as he has done in important games all season, had a little patience for his pitchers. Starter Kyle Bradish was taken out after 84 pitches in the fifth, Hyde opting to use his fresh bullpen to fill the rest of the game.
“We were down 2-1, and he just gave up two runs the inning before,” Hyde said. “And I don’t think he’s as sharp as he is usually.”
That left 4 1/3 innings to the bullpen that, after five days off, was as fresh as it had been since the start of spring training. With a series of left-handed hitters coming up, Hyde swapped Bradish for Danny Coulombe. Coulombe walked Evan Carter, then got Jonah Heim to ground out. Coulombe faced one more hitter in the sixth before Webb went in against the bottom of Texas’ order, which features a right-hander and a switch hitter.
It was clear that he did not have it. Rangers rookie Josh Jung took the third pitch of Webb’s outing — a fastball over the plate — to the center field stands. Webb then walked Leody Taveras, another sign his command was off, before getting Marcus Semien to fly out.
Semien was his third batter, thus by MLB rules the earliest he could be removed from the game. Hyde got him out right away, sending out Hall for 1 1/3, Wells for an inning and Pérez for two-thirds of the ninth to close it out.
Webb, who was claimed off waivers from the Angels in August, has held right-handed hitters to a .178 batting average this season. The decision, though, was still puzzling. Yennier Canó, an All-Star this season, wasn’t used. Pérez, who can go multiple innings, also could have been used more. Coulombe, too, could have remained in the game.
With built-in off days in the ALDS, Hyde doesn’t need to be as careful with usage as he is in the regular season. Monday is an off day, and they will have a break on Thursday between Games 4 and 5 if the series isn’t over yet.
This was just Game 1. Sunday, with Grayson Rodriguez starting, will be another chance for Hyde, with most of his bullpen expected to be available and at his disposal again.