PHILADELPHIA -- If Cito Gaston didn't concede last night's game to the Philadelphia Phillies, then he's a managerial genius who should never again have to deal with second guessing.
The manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, in the midst of what loomed as a pivotal game in the World Series, gave every indication of throwing in the towel in the seventh inning. His team trailed 13-9, but the game already had produced a World Series record for most runs in a game.
With a third of the game remaining, there was little reason to believe the teams were finished scoring -- unless they were worn out. But in that situation, Gaston chose to let left-handed reliever Tony Castillo bat for himself leading off the seventh inning.
The move appeared to be a concession. But the Phillies, who couldn't handle a game that was even wilder than their celebrated "Wild Thing" reliever, Mitch Williams, were not ready with an acceptance speech.
Castillo, who had allowed one run in the sixth, struck out before giving up another run in the seventh. He escaped a bases-loaded situation that threatened to put the game out of the Blue Jays' reach, as Gaston seemed more intent on saving his bullpen than trying to generate a rally.
And, as it turned out, that was the correct impression.
"Our bullpen's a little short right now," Gaston said. "I just about know what those guys can do.
"I didn't want to use [Mike] Timlin or [Mark] Eichhorn in that situation, so I was forced to play it that way. Castillo struggled a little bit, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and that's what we did."
Timlin entered in the eighth inning, striking out the only two batters he faced before giving way to Duane Ward, who earned the save.
Gaston's reluctance to go to his bullpen for a third time in the game hinted that he was thinking ahead to Game 5, rather than deliberating strategy for the game at hand. Either way, he came out of it looking good.
He coaxed another inning out of Castillo, an effective one only when compared to everything else that happened during the game. And he didn't have to use Timlin until after his team, incredibly, had scored six times to take the lead in the eighth inning.
The nonmove at a critical juncture worked, which is all that really matters, even though the Blue Jays fell behind by another run, 14-9, before launching their comeback.
Eichhorn has pitched only one-third of an inning in the World Series, and Timlin hadn't pitched since Sunday, when he worked 1 2/3 innings in Game 2.
Gaston's choice was to play a pat hand and keep his relievers fresh for Game 5, when the series might be tied, or take the long-shot chance to get back into the game with a pinch-hitter.
He opted to play it safe, rather than risk everything on an improbable comeback. He won on both counts.
Had the Blue Jays come up a run short last night, the Gaston-bashers would've had a field day. But they didn't. They covered their manager by one run and put themselves into position to wrap up their second straight World Series tonight.
The Blue Jays are one win away from becoming the first World Series champions to repeat in 15 years. And they have their ace, Juan Guzman, poised for the clincher.
His bullpen won't be as well rested as Gaston had planned, but all things considered the Blue Jays have to be satisfied with the consequences. It's not often that a team wins a game that had practically been conceded.