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Radar Busted His Hump To Get You Those Bullets, Now Go Out And Use Them!
by Derek Smart
I starting thinking today about how I'm really looking forward to seeing Uncle Lou manage in the playoffs. One of the tendencies I've seen this year, and that I interpret as a strength, is his willingness to play for the moment. To see an opportunity, make the necessary move to seize it, then deal with the aftermath when and if it comes.
The most pertinent example I can think of is the May 6th game against the Nationals at Wrigley. Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs are down by a run. The first man due up is Cesar! Izturis. A clear pinch-hitting situation, as the chances Izturis will reach base in these circumstances are roughly analogous to the chances that an alien will crash land on Earth, go to a 7-11, buy a lottery ticket, win the Powerball, use the proceeds from his one-time payout (because only chumps take the annuity) to purchase the necessary parts and fuel to repair his craft, fix his ship, take off for home, get struck by lightning, crash again, go to the same 7-11, buy another ticket, win his second consecutive Powerball, decide that Earth isn't so bad after all and build a house on the shores of Lake Michigan, start a farm, raise a family, become involved in the local church, live to be 150, and while on his deathbed, get abducted by a ship with one female crew member who happens to be his great-great-granddaughter via a one-night-stand consummated the night before he first left for Earth. Give or take a percentage point.
The gist is, pinch-hitting for Izturis is an unassailable strategy if all you're worried about is increasing your chances to score, but the problem is that Ryan Theriot, the only other man on the roster at the time capable of playing short, was already in the game at second, and Mark DeRosa, the only other regular second baseman on the roster, who also happened to be that day's starter in right field, had already been lifted in the sixth during a double-switch. So while your chances to win the game in the ninth are better when using a pinch hitter, the complications that arise defensively if a mere tie is achieved make the decision fraught with danger.
If I may take a moment to speculate, when I first began thinking about this situation I felt like this would be exactly the sort of deal that carried a high probability of making Dusty Baker's brain hemorrhage. Then I thought some more, and began to come around to the idea that maybe this type of thing was actually quite simple for him to handle because, to his way of thinking, his hands would be tied. He couldn't ask someone to play out of position defensively, so he must allow the horror that is Cesar! At The Bat, even though the most likely result is that he never gets to play short during the top of the tenth because his out helped finish the club's chances that day.
If there is, for me, a key difference between the in-game management of Baker and Piniella, it is the phrase "But, what if....?" For Baker, it was the query that ruled every decision, echoing in his head whenever a choice was to be made, paralyzing him with greater efficacy than a five gallon drum of curare. Piniella, on the other hand, acts as if he's never heard such a thing in his life. There is a freedom in his decision making that can only be achieved by dealing with one problem at a time. With the situation outlined above, I envision an exchange like this if I were in the dugout:
Me: What do you need?
Lou: I need runs.
Me: What's the best way to achieve that?
Lou: Pinch hit Cliff Floyd for Izturis.
Me: What will you do defensively if there's a tie?
Lou: Shut up, kid. Let's score that run first.
What's not to like about that? Lou did, indeed, pinch hit Floyd for Cesar!. Cliff walked, Ward followed with a single, and Theriot later drove Jason Marquis (Floyd's pinch runner) in to tie the game. Then, confronted with a defensive need in the middle infield, Lou did the only thing he could: move Theriot to short, put Alfonso Soriano in at second, and drop Ward in left.
Optimal? Hell, no, but it gave the team a better chance to win, because it gave them a better shot at coming from behind in the ninth. It took courage, guts, and most importantly, the understanding that saving something for later doesn't matter if later never comes. The Cubs went on to win that game, but even if they'd lost, the decision was the right one, and exactly the type of call a manager has to make in the playoffs, where there aren't another 100 games in your satchel if you're feeling conservative that day. That's why I'm looking forward to seeing him work these games. Because I know that, even if the Cubs don't make it, Lou will make sure all the ammo's been spent.