Thursday, October 13
Editor's note: So maybe the Astros and the Cardinals (and the umpiring crew) didn't give us the opportunity for histrionics that Wednesday night's ninth inning in Chicago did. So that 4-1 Houston win looked tame in comparison. So what? Eric Neel and Michael Knisley can always second-guess each other ...
Michael: Hey, E, let's get it started with starters. Something bugs me about the postseason, the way managers change their thinking about how far you go with starters in October. I personally think managers yank 'em too soon. Exhibit A would be Bobby Cox, but that's last week's story. Tonight, it's Phil Garner giving up on a dominant Roy Oswalt after seven innings. See, I'd stick with him until he's in trouble, especially up 4-1. Or I'd at least go with a set-up guy here rather than Brad Lidge for the last two innings.
Eric: I'm OK with Lidge. He hadn't pitched since Sunday. I can see wanting/needing Oswalt with extra in the tank for the next start in this series, and then getting some work for Lidge in the process. Now, two innings might be a bit much, but it's not unprecedented. Lidge has gone two innings six times this season. I think Garner's guarding against two things here: Overworking Oswalt, who'd thrown 108 pitches, and shutting this game down with Lidge, who's been ridiculously good all year, because being down 0-2 is death. A 4-1 lead just ain't that big against the Cardinals. That said, I liked leaving Oswalt in for the seventh, even when he got in some trouble, because he was spectacular tonight, and he wanted to be there, and he was pitching and behaving like a bigtime pitcher.
Michael: It works, I know, in this case. And Friday is a day off. I understand all that. What I don't understand is why you spend 162 games during the regular season developing a rhythm in your bullpen -- a rhythm that includes a significant downbeat from a set-up man -- and then forget everything you learned on the way to the postseason. You see it time after time. Managers don't trust what got 'em into October.
Eric: See, you and me, we're the two roads that diverged in the woods on this one. I think you have to be willing to think outside the box in the postseason. Now, the times when that's annoying and counterproductive, as Rob Neyer and Dave Schoenfield pointed out the other night, are the times when their "outside the box" thinking is really way, way in the box, as in conservative, as in small-ball, as in bunting and playing for one run, etc. But when it comes to pens, I like the tendency to break form from the regular season, precisely because it almost always means doing something more aggressive rather than something more conservative.
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Like last year, when Garner went to Lidge in the seventh because that's when he needed him, because that's when he thought the game was in the balance ... I loved that. The Dodgers and Jim Tracy last year, waiting for the "appropriate" time to use Eric Gagne, never, ever got to use him and were out of the playoffs in four short games without employing their most devastating weapon even once. Lidge is a huge weapon for the Astros, and he took this game out of the realm of Cardinal possibility, out of range of questions like, "How much does Oswalt have left?" and "Will he be ready for extraordinary measures down the line in this series?" etc.
Michael: Wait. The Dodgers were in the playoffs last year? Wasn't that, like, 1997 or something?
I can't argue with you on the specifics of the Lidge decision. This clearly was flirting with being a must-win game for the Astros. Garner had to play it like he did ... although I still say that up 4-1, he can give Oswalt a little more leash than he did. But I can argue the more general point -- and I can give you a specific example from this game -- that managers tend to think "outside the box" in the postseason when they really have no idea where their "outside the box" thinking is going to take them. Call me conservative, but I like to know what I'm getting into. And I don't know, for example, where Jason Marquis is going to take me when Tony La Russa puts him on the mound in the eighth inning.
Look up the player card for 'Jason Marquis' on ESPN.com. It says 'SP' on it. That means 'Starting Pitcher.' Not 'Set-up Man.'
Eric: I hear you. It's good to have guys in roles they're familiar with. You want that for them and you want it for yourself, as a manager, when you're, as you say, thinking about where you're going, etc. But the Cards are in a tight middle-relief spot in this series/postseason, actually, because Al Reyes, their usual stud, got hurt at the end of the season and Ray King, last year's key middle man, has been ... well, his mama asked me just to use the word "erratic," because she felt "dangerous" or "pathetic" might hurt Ray-Ray's feelings. So you tinker a bit, and you put Jason Marquis in in the eighth. (It's very likely that you've told Jason at the start of the postseason that he's a reliever, if anything, in this series going in anyway, right?)
But none of this really addresses the central fact of Jason Marquis' player card on ESPN.com which is that it says "Pitcher" at all?! Huh. Who knew? ... Uh-oh, I just get out of trouble with Ray's mom and now I go looking for a beating from Jason's. What's my problem?
Michael: Your problem is your mean streak. It's subtle, but it's there. It shows up every time somebody puts the words "Dodgers" and "last year" in the same sentence. In this case, you did it to yourself. So let's try some therapy. Let's accentuate the positive. Can we give a little love to Sir Roy Oswalt tonight?
Eric: Amen on Roy. Here's a guy with two 20-win seasons in a row, and an ERA on the downside of 3, a WHIP of like 1.18 career, a dancing fastball, and a curveball that kisses the girls and makes them cry, if you know what I'm saying and I think you do. Roger Clemens was the story in Houston this year, but Oswalt is a very close second. If this guy pitched in NYC, or even Chicago, people would be naming their struggling punk bands and squawling babies after him. He and Jake Peavy are the two best pitchers nobody ever talks about, and it just ain't right.
He owned the Cards tonight, carried them around in his saddle bags like so many pieces of cured pork rind. And now the Series has turned (especially if Reggie Sanders is out of Game 3) in Houston's favor in a pretty big way. Roger in Game 3? Back to Andy Pettitte at home in Game 4? I'll say it right now: The good people of Houston can start setting up the aluminum-framed lawn chairs outside the ticket window at Minute Maid. They're about to go Classic. Fall Classic, that is.
Michael: I'm with you, brother. I'm already working the angles on which country music stars will be singing the national anthem at the World Series games in Houston the week after next. (For the record, MLB will miss the boat if it passes up on Charlie Robison, but the early money is on that already-has-been Gretchen Wilson.)
Oswalt was a monster tonight. You made the comment earlier in the evening that it's a shame the Cardinals had to waste their time coming out to the yard. You were right. Their nights would've been more productive if they'd stayed home to watch a documentary on the history of cardboard. Sir Roy's heater was doing some sort of strange and wonderful dance in those last 15 or 20 feet before it reached the plate.
Eric: That documentary on the history of cardboard is good, I hear. Not as good as the one Scorcese did on Dylan, though. Now there's a possibility: Dylan sings the national anthem to open the series ... Unless, of course, Oswalt wants to. Because after tonight, if I'm Garner, I don't deny him anything.
Previous Second Guesses
• Oct. 12: So who's REALLY to blame?