Friday, April 30, 2004

Unkown by Nine. 04.29.30

Last night's game was over in the first inning, so it hardly seems fair to write a whole bunch of notes about meaningless baseball. I have few things about the game, a few random notes, and we'll see where we get. By we, I mean me.

1. It is really very difficult to sweep a doubleheader. Just doesn't happen often, even when the teams are distinctly mismatched. Yesterday, obviously, the Sox pulled it off, mostly again due to great pitching. A lot of ink has been dropped on this issue, but one person is going unmentioned. Praise has gone to Foulke, Schill, Francona, Theo, even Varitek -- but not a single word on Dave Wallace. Last year was sort of a wash for the Sox pitching coach, he took over mid-stream and didn't get time to learn the players and gain their trust. With the offseason under his belt however, he's got Embree throwing his best since San Diego, Williamson getting on top of pitches and using the bottom of the strike zone, and Ramiro Mendoza on the DL. All is right with the world. Obviously the staff's success is not entirely his doing, but this is a capital G Great pitching coach (check out the stats of his Dodger and Met pitchers), and he has definitely had more than a bit to do with this run. Remember Wallace.

2. Damian Moss's first inning was an extravaganza of bad pitching, but it wasn't entirely his fault. He was out there without instruction or guidance, and unless he was ignoring the advice of his catcher or coaches, he shouldn't be fully blamed. Dave McCarty and Gabe Kapler are fairly simple hitters to get out. Neither of them can hit curveballs, and they don't do anything with balls on the outside corner. Throw them anything other than low or inside fastballs and they're a right turn away from the dugout. So what does he throw them? McCarty: low fastball, Kapler: inside fastball. Result? Herculean line drives. If The Ninth can see this from his futon couch at home, certainly the fine Tampa staff can see it from the dugout. If Moss was told to throw the curves and waived it off or ignored it, that's his problem, but if, as The Ninth suspects, Toby Hall doesn't know what he's doing or the pitching coach gave no help, then Damian had conspirators. Bad pitches happen sometimes, so do bad ideas, but no idea is inexcusable.

3. Lowe had a nice curveball going last night. He's had one, in fact, all season. Seems to go to it when he's having trouble getting the sinker over. (I told you they wouldn't all be winners.)

4. I bet Lou Pinella loved it when Kapler bunted for a hit with a 7-2 lead and slid into first base. Annoying, vaguely disrespectful, and stupid. All Pinella favorites. That's how you get your tires slashed. By a 60 year old man.

5. The Ninth really has no intention of making fun of Don Orsillo on a regular basis. He's a pretty good announcer, keeps up with the Remdog, and seems like a very nice guy. But he talks about doughnuts a lot, and he's put on a few pounds recently, so he's an easy target. And how can you resist this 5th inning exchange:

Remy: How does Chinese food and doughnuts go together anyway, Don?
Orsillo: I can eat doughnuts with just about anything.

I mean what am I supposed to do, not mention that? I'm expected to just let that slide? He ate doughnuts and Chinese food together, talked about it on the air, and then added that he could eat them with anything? I have to do my job here folks. It's a task, sometimes a burden, and I get paid very very well for it, so I do it. If Orsillo talks about doughnuts, I must report it. I'm sorry.

6. As a counterpoint to our occasional criticism of Francona's bullpen use, the following took place in yesterday's Phillies v. Cards game. Kevin Millwood ably pitched the Phillies into the 8th inning with a 2-1 lead. For the bottom of the 8th, manager Larry Bowa called on Tim Worrell, their new and primary set up guy. No argument there. Problem is, Worrell had some pretty nasty hitters to face, and fairly quickly he found himself with Edgar Renteria on third and Pujols on second. Happens to the best of us. This is where it gets interesting. 8th inning, tying run on third, winning run on second, one out - Jim Edmonds coming up. Now Bowa has one of the best closers in baseball, Billy Wagner, freshly added to his bullpen, and ready to give his 98 mph heater a spin. Tempting choice. Instead though, Larry opts for Virtual Rheal Cormier, which wouldn't have been my move, but perhaps he felt 5 outs was too much to ask of his closer. Fine. So Cormier comes in and, lo and behold, gets Edmonds swinging - with a lot of help from the irresponsible side of Jim's brain. 2 down. Pretty good. Only one out away from getting through this jam. Coming up for St. Louis is Scott Rolen, who is off to a scorching start, followed by the left-handed Colin Porter. Cormier, being a lefty, would much rather face Porter, but because Reggie Sanders is sitting on La Russa's bench, he likely won't have that opportunity. But of the three hitters that Philly could possibly have to go through to get this last out (Rolen, Porter, Sanders) Rolen is by far the best, so you might as well put him on first. Bowa agrees, and holds up four fingers. Now we come down to both the nitty and the gritty. Bases loaded, 2-1 lead, two outs, bottom of the 8th. Reggie Sanders has been announced for Porter and is heading to the plate. Bowa will certainly replace Lefty Cormier, but with who? His 40 save-fireballing-slider off the table-15 K's in 11 innings closer? Or perhaps, because he's dillusionally obsessed with the fact that the little number on the scoreboard says an 8 next to inning line instead of a 9, he'll opt for his overweight, over-the-hill set up man, Roberto Hernandez? I fear I've ruined the surprise. It is of course Hernandez, because the 8th inning is a land only for men who set up, not those who dare to close. What's the result? On the first pitch he sees, Reggie Sanders slams a triple over the centerfielder's head, clearing the bases. Cards up, 4-2. Hernandez subsequently got out of the inning, but the damage was done. The game ended up in extra innings and was eventually won on a JimEd walk off, but that's not the point. Bowa had obviously made the wrong choice, but not because Sanders tripled, because it was wrong. Larry had the second best relief pitcher in baseball sitting in the bullpen watching as probably the 50 or 60th best coughed up the lead. Why? Because it was the eighth inning. That's it. When Philly reporters asked the manager if he considered going to Wagner, especially in light of the fact that Sanders was 0 for 13 with eight strikeouts in his career against him, he said: "Not even a thought, I'm not using him in the eighth inning. Unless we have a day off or something, he's not coming in the eighth inning. Ever. Day off or he hasn't pitched in four days, yeah." Honestly, have you ever heard anything so stupid in your life? Does he think Wagner's arm is going to fall off? It's one extra out. And what exactly is he saving him for? What is going to happen in the 9th inning that could possibly be worse that what is happening here in the 8th? Are there going to be four men on Larry? Could that happen? Maybe a monster will come to the plate and Billy Wagner will be the only person who knows how to kill him. The bases are loaded Larry. The Cardinals' best pinch hitter is coming up. This is it buddy. This is the game, whether you like or not. If you're not going to use your best arm just because it's the eighth inning, then you're going to lose a lot of games in the eighth inning. And you don't have to. If you do the wrong thing just because you think it's right, then you're both stubborn and simple, and that's not a good thing to be. Francona, as we all know, would've brought Foulke in. In fact, he would've had him in before any of this silliness got started. Maybe he overuses, and maybe he disregards proper rest, but there's a lot to be said for better safe than sorry. Wagner's arm won't fall off, and Keith's might, but if Boston loses a game in the 8th inning, it's gonna be with their best guy in the middle of the diamond. The way it should be. And if the fans of Philly and the guy who's signing Wagner's 8 million dollar check don't let Bowa know that, then they're in for more of the same. Have fun.