Bryan Price faced a decision.
In the third inning of last night's game against the Pirates, his team was leading 5-1, but Pittsburgh - after threatening to score in the first and second - had pushed a run in and loaded the bases against Brandon Finnegan.
Unlike his performance last Wednesday's start against the Phillies, Finnegan wasn't close to his best, and even as his team gave him an early cushion, it looked very early like the game would be a struggle for the lefty.
And in the third, it looked like a once-sizable lead was about to evaporate.
Price could have left him in, and he could've done with using some of the same old tired justifications for leaving a pitcher in that managers have been hiding behind for years.
He could've allowed Finnegan to try to get through five, allowing him to chance one of those exceedingly meaningless pitcher wins.
He could've hid behind the fact that after a walk forced in a run, Finnegan had the soft landing of the bottom three hitters in the Pittsburgh batting order coming up.
He could've repeated the often-used refrain that in situations like the one facing the Reds in the third inning, young starting pitchers need to figure out how to escape difficulty.
He could've cited Finnegan's experience, at least in comparison to some of his rotation mates, and thrown in for good measure how his stellar performance last week "earned" him a chance to get through the inning.
Or he could've taken him out and replaced him with someone better equipped - at least for one night - to protect the lead.
He chose, of course, to go to his bullpen, summoning not just any old reliever, but instead turning to one of his best options in Michael Lorenzen, who proceeded to retire the Pirates in order, starting a string of 21 consecutive hitters set down by Reds relievers to close out the night, and ultimately, Cincinnati's 7-1 win at PNC Park.
Price's decision was made easier by the fact that in Lorenzen, he has a pitcher who has enough flexibility to get multiple innings out of (not to mention that he's a capable hitter), and a wealth of relievers who are - so far - having good seasons. But it was still not only a move that proved to be correct, it was emblematic of a way of making decisions that placed winning above and beyond anything else.
Winning the game was the only consideration. Not stats. Not someone's feelings. Not how the move might play in the postgame media Q&A. Not how the move might affect the game the next day. It demonstrated both flexibility with his bullpen and understandable impatience with a starter who wasn't getting it done. And it put a premium on the work done by his team's offense and not wanting it to go to waste.
It sounds obvious that most managers should do this, but you and I both know - and have rooted for teams run by - managers that don't. Gotta get the starter a win, right? Can't screw with the 23 year-old's psyche. Can't take relievers out of their comfort zone. Gotta squeeze as much as we can from the starter to save the bullpen for the next day, or the day after.
Last night, Bryan Price basically said "eff that," determined that the third inning, that game, and the team's early lead were too important to allow anything less important than winning the game influence his decision-making.
It obviously ended up being the right decision, but not just because it factored in the Reds ultimately winning the game, but it also demonstrated that Price's preseason talk of using the bullpen more effectively isn't just something being paid lip service too, but something that he'll actually do. It showed a sense of urgency that I can't help think the team as a whole had to notice.
And for a team and an organization that's learning how to win, Bryan Price managing last night to win made a statement that even on a team that's not expected to achieve victory this season that often, nothing else is more important.