Most of the time, managers of baseball teams don’t really have a whole lot to do. You write out the day’s lineup – which is usually the same every day – you let the pitcher pitch, and you take the pitcher out when you feel that he’s done. Aside from that and the occasional team meeting whenever you’ve fallen on hard times, I don’t really see the baseball manager doing a whole lot.
Until, that is, you get into games like we had here last night. That’s when you get down to the REAL baseball decisions. Like Pinch Runners, Pinch Hitters, matching up your bullpen to the other team’s batters, hits & runs. We had it all yesterday! And I’m going to highlight just a few that made all the difference for the Mariners in their comeback win last night.
The first one’s probably the simplest move of them all, but it’s the move most managers hate to do: pinch hit for the catcher (because, you know, you’re screwed if your second catcher gets injured and it goes to extra innings). In the 8th inning, Chris Gimenez was due up with two runners on. Thanks to our 6-man bullpen, we now have an amazing number of bench players ready to be thrown in at a moment’s notice. So, enter Adam Kennedy, who is quickly endearing himself to this Mariners fanbase as the anti-Eric Byrnes. You know, a guy who tries just as hard, but actually manages to SUCCEED once in a while. Anyway, Adam Kennedy singled to bring the game back to 7-5; we would go on to make it 7-6 before the eighth inning was over.
The second move by Wedge was a little more radical. In the top of the 9th, still down a run, Justin Smoak led off the inning with a single. Now, this isn’t the first time he’s pinch ran for Smoak, but it’s always playing with fire because if you succeed and tie the game, and it goes into extras (as it did yesterday), then you’ve just taken out your best hitter. And, for this team, that means your only legitimate threat to end the game with one swing of the bat. It’s risky. Fortunately, Michael Saunders was able to swipe the biggest base of his life, and with two outs, Carlos Peguero – THE ROOKIE SENSATION – knocked him in to tie the game.
Those were two moves that paid off bigtime. Those were two moves, also, that are pretty much no-lose moves. Nobody’s going to second guess pinch hitting for Gimenez or pinch running for Smoak. You’re playing the odds, and in this instance the odds paid off.
The final move was NOT made by Eric Wedge, but by Ron Gardenhire of the Twins. This one had me shaking my head, but I wasn’t going to protest. He made a dumb move, plain and simple. And it cost him the game.
In the top of the 10th inning, Jack Wilson led off with a single. After flailing miserably at two bunt attempts, Miguel Olivo roped a single into centerfield to put runners on first & second. Ichiro, bunt master that he is, sacrificed them over to second & third. With Chone Figgins entering the batter’s box, Ron Gardenhire had a decision to make. By intentionally walking Figgins, Gardenhire made the WRONG decision.
It’s like he’s never heard of the Mariners offense before! Has he NOT seen Figgins at the plate the last season and a third? Figgins is pretty worthless. The odds of Figgins hitting it out of the infield was practically zero. Yes, by putting him on you’re setting up the double play, but you’re not taking into account the fact that Luis Rodriguez has done nothing the past two years but lift fly balls to the outfield.
Which is what he did last night, sacrificing in the game winning run. Just stupid. I was convinced Figgins would roll one over to the second baseman.
Now THAT is the type of move everyone can second guess! I hope the Minnesota media gave Gardenhire the business for that one.
Helluva game, though. The Mariners had a 4-1 lead – including Jack Cust’s first ever Mariners home run in the first inning – then the Twins roared back to make it 7-4 (thanks to Jim Thome’s two rockets), and finally the Mariners got to their bullpen for the win. Meanwhile, Jason Vargas did indeed break the streak of starters going 7+ innings and giving up 2 or less runs. Walks & homers, what did I tell you yesterday? He walked 4 guys, gave up 2 bombs, and left before the end of the 5th inning having given up 5 earned runs.
The streak of wins continues, though. Let’s see some more of that good stuff.