Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Closer Poser

Okay, this Fan is a little peeved. Well, make that a lot peeved. The target of this ill humor? Managers. There seems to be this golden rule that a manager will sink or swim with his closer no matter what is happening in the ninth inning. This rule was no better exemplified then in Tuesday night's game between the Blue Jays and the Bay Rays. The Blue Jays are scratching and clawing, raking and dishing to keep themselves relevant in the AL East. It's been tremendously fun watching this team of underdogs crush the ball and pitch like crazy. In a stretch of games where they face the Bay Rays six times and the Yankees three times, they took the Bay Rays in the first game of the series. On Tuesday night, they were in control and took a 5-3 lead into the ninth. Enter Kevin Gregg.

Gregg has done a decent job for the Blue Jays after a difficult experience in Chicago. But there are times when a closer just doesn't have what it takes to finish a game. That happens even to Mariano Rivera once or twice a year. It happens. A couple of weeks ago, Rivera didn't have it and Girardi invoked the golden rule and left Rivera out there to get pounded until the Yankees lost. Tonight was Gregg's turn and again, the manager fell prey to this stupid rule. Here's what happened.

Gregg came into the game and started things off with a strikeout. One down. Upton walked. No problem. His run was meaningless. Upton stole second and then Gregg inexplicably threw a ball away which allowed Upton to third. No problem. Again, that run is meaningless. Carl Crawford walked. That's a cardinal crime, walking the tying run on base. Now there is a problem. Gregg then struck out Longoria. Two outs. The next sequence is where Cito Gaston lost the game by sticking with the golden rule. Carlos Pena was up next. Pena, of course, is a left-handed batter. It was the perfect situation to bring in Rommie Lewis. Lewis throws from the left-hand side. He has a 4/1 K/BB ratio. He has a WHIP of 1.00. It was perfect. But Gaston stuck with Gregg.

Gregg walked Pena. The bases were then loaded, Gregg had already walked three guys to that point. The Bay Rays sent up John Jaso to pinch hit. Jaso also bats left-handed. Okay, Cito, you could have used Lewis to get Pena out but didn't. After three walks, at least bring in Lewis to pitch to Jaso? No. That violates the golden rule. Gregg walked Jaso to make the score 5-4. Gregg had reached four walks in the inning. The next batter was Zobrist, a switch hitter who has a .915 OPS against right-handed pitching and a .606 OPS against left-handed pitching. Yes, his splits are that dramatic (and a little known secret). C'mon Cito, get the guy out of there! Lewis had a better chance against Zobrist than Gregg who was obviously laboring. NO!? Oh yeah, golden rule: Live by the closer, die by the closer. Screw that stupid rule already.

Zobrist, of course hit a double that cleared the bases. Ball game. Gaston STILL didn't go get his closer. Gregg then walked his fifth batter and only then did Gaston go get him. Finally, Rommie Lewis came in to pitch...three batters too late. Of course, Lewis struck out his guy to end the inning.

Now, Gaston isn't alone in this stupidity. It happens every week in baseball. What fries the Fan is that it isn't rocket science to think out of the box here and understand that closers are fallible and as such, there is no reason why the only outcomes possible are a save or a loss. This Fan can't imagine Tony LaRussa being that tied to such a stupid rule of thinking. The match ups were right there in front of Gaston. You can't even give Gaston a break because it was a Papelbon or a Rivera. It was Kevin freakin Gregg, AKA: Average closer that can be fallible on occasion.

Rob Neyer has often said that managers don't often manage to win, but often manage to not lose. There is a big difference. Tony LaRussa manages to win every game he's in the dugout. Gaston, like too many other managers, just paints by the numbers.

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