Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mini-Fallout For The Mets And An Absurd Panic

In the cosmic scheme of things this latest debacle, an 8-6 loss to the Phillies, won't mean much of anything if the Mets get two well-pitched games today and tomorrow from John Maine and Oliver Perez and win. The older I get, the more I believe the Jim Leyland-theory that momentum is only as good as the next day's starter. That being said, there are some things that need to be clarified about this game.
  • Johan Santana didn't ask to come out of the game after eight innings, but he didn't fight to stay in either:
There are a dozen arguments to take a pitcher like Santana out after eight innings. A
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three-run lead should have been safe with or without the closer and regardless of the opponent; he's going to be needed down the stretch and in the post-season(?) and it makes no sense to go over his normal workload for a relatively meaningless game in July; the Mets have a lot of money invested in him for a lot of years and going over his threshold four months into his first season with the team is a panic move; etc, etc.
But there are also viable arguments for him to go out and at least try to finish the game for his team. There's a difference between going above and beyond what a pitcher's used to in terms of pitch count and going slightly over what is normal; the circumstances----105 pitches through eight innings; the unavailability of closer Billy Wagner; that Santana came here to be the man the Mets have been missing since the
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days of Dwight Gooden----dictated that he should have stood in front of Jerry Manuel and told his manager that he wanted to start the ninth inning; that it was his game and without Wagner available, his responsibility to try and close things out himself. Instead he allowed himself to be removed and again the question of whether his desire to win is secondary to his satisfaction of doing well enough to win even if the bullpen coughs it up.
The argument of star players who are reluctant to get down in the muck is always logically sound. When he was at his best as the most dangerous hitter in the National League, former Cincinnati Reds star George Foster responded to the Pete Rose criticism that he never got his uniform dirty by saying that he didn't run into walls because he didn't want to get hurt and miss substantial time and not be able to help the team with his bat; but sometimes a player must run into a wall; or a pitcher must go past that threshold of pitches to help the team win.
It's not like they were talking about him going from 115 pitches to 135-140. That would've
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been extreme; he was at 105 pitches and could have thrown fifteen or twenty more as long as he felt all right and his mechanics were sound. Taking him out was the easily explainable maneuver (to their bosses and to the reporters) and that's what managers tend to lean towards rather than what might be best for the team. Thus far as manager of the Mets, Manuel has shown a strategic acumen that wasn't present in Willie Randolph and he's shown the ability to ignore certain orthodoxies that have become all-too-common, but last night, there shouldn't even have been a discussion or decision to blow up in everyone's face. Manuel should've asked Santana to finish the game and Santana should've demanded that he finish the game. He's thrown between 110 and 120 pitches in his career numerous times and it wouldn't have hurt him had he gone out there for the ninth inning with a short leash to try and prevent the short-handed bullpen from doing exactly as they did and blowing a game that the team should have won.
  • A reporter's agenda is showing:
William C. Rhoden wrote an article in today's New York Times----Column----basically accusing Wagner of unilaterally deciding to take the game off, sitting in the clubhouse and shaking his head as his replacements imploded; that the Mets leadership from Jerry Manuel on down is lacking; and defending Willie Randolph as if the entire collapse from last season
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and lackluster play during his tenure this season was somehow not his fault; he then suggests that the modern day version of Nietzsche's Superman, Mariano Rivera, has never once been unavailable when the Yankees needed him as the Mets needed Wagner last night. I'm here to tell you that Rhoden's agenda in defending Randolph is blatantly obvious and that he clearly pulled this vague accusation of a "lack of leadership" out of the air to defend Randolph and rip the Mets.
Wagner and the doctors decided that it would be better to give the pitcher's sore trapezius/shoulder another day of rest. It's not as if Wagner didn't want to be out there on the mound for the ninth inning. Wagner is a lot of things. He's shaky in big games and he's got a big mouth, but he's not an Erik Bedard/Carl
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Pavano-style malingerer. This is why it's so difficult to be a closer especially in New York; if he goes into the game sore and blows the game or blows his shoulder out so he's lost for the season, he gets ripped for either not thinking about the big picture or for not being good at his job; if he takes the doctor's advice and gives his shoulder an extra day of rest, he's accused of fiddling while Rome burns.
One game is very small in the grand context of the last sixty games and beyond(?) that the Mets are going to need Wagner to pitch. If he got hurt, they'd be faced with the possibility of having to rely on their other bullpen pitchers who either don't have the mental aptitude or ability to close games as well as Wagner (even with all of his faults); then the team would be forced to overpay out of desperation for the likes of Huston Street or George Sherrill when their other needs (a corner outfield bat) should take precedence.
Regardless of how one feels about Willie Randolph on a personal level; or how they feel about the way the Mets botched his firing, I don't think anyone with an objective bone in his body wouldn't agree that it was time for him to go. The team wasn't responding to him and they weren't going to turn things around with him at the helm; the questions surrounding his job status had become stifling and the leadership that Rhoden claims is still missing was being ignored and dismissed while Randolph and Rick Peterson were still around. Even with
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this one loss, Manuel has proven to be far superior strategically to Randolph and the team seems relaxed and at ease with him in the manager's office.
Mariano Rivera is not invulnerable. There have been times that even he has had to be rested because of a barking elbow. To imply that Rivera would have gone out to the mound in any condition (especially in a game in July) is piling on Wagner because he's not Rivera, but Wagner, even at his best, was never Rivera. He was never even Trevor Hoffman. He's a pretty good closer who throws hard and gets the job done most of the time. A player's performance has little to do with him being injured and Rhoden combines the two to indict Wagner as something that he's not. He is not a guy who doesn't want the pressure of pitching a big game whether he succeeds or fails.
To continue to try and defend Randolph is grasping at straws to find reasons for his demise other than that he had his major faults as a manager and it was past time for a change. No matter what happens for the rest of the season, it won't change that reality. And it should be remembered that even with the entire mess of this season----the injuries, botched firings, questionable decisions and infighting----the Mets are still one game out of first place and have the personnel to not only take control of the NL East, but to emerge
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from a mediocre National League to make it to the World Series. As the Cardinals proved two years ago, once a team gets that far, they're still only four wins from a championship and everything that happened as they navigated their way there is conveniently forgotten during the victory parade and raising of the World Series trophy. In the end, this was only one game in July and that's what everyone needs to remember before panicking. It's not about the invisible and difficult to gauge expression of "leadership"; it's about performance and nothing more.

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