Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Maddon, Tito can't make Dusty's mistake
By Buster Olney
CLEVELAND -- Indians GM Chris Antonetti was asked about how many relievers the Indians intend to carry on their roster in Wednesday night’s AL wild-card game, and he laughed and said that Terry Francona’s preference is to carry about two dozen, so that he can play match up.
Antonetti was joking, but in the playoffs -- and especially in a one-game, winner-take-all situation -- the baseball that we know disappears, replaced by something that more closely resembles speed chess wrapped up in a drag race.
Players and managers are conditioned over the course of the long summer to hone their sense of urgency, to strike a balance between the need for immediate results and to not allow themselves to be overcome by anxiety. But in a one-game playoff, anxiety is the norm; adrenaline is inherent for the managers and the players.
That was never more apparent than in Pittsburgh Tuesday night, when a loud and invested and color-coordinated crowd showed up and seemed to make a difference. From Bill Brink’s story:
"It was pure energy from pitch one to the last out," said Neil Walker, who went 2 for 5. "Even in announcing the teams. That was one of the most impressive moments I've ever been a part of."
They erupted after the Pirates' three home runs. Two of them came from Russell Martin, who became the first Pirate to hit multiple home runs in a playoff game since Bob Robertson hit three against the San Francisco Giants in the 1971 NLCS.
"My hands were a bit quicker than usual," Martin said. "The crowd gave me some energy."
On Monday, Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Francona both spoke of the need to be aggressive in this type of situation, to anticipate, to react quickly. When Joe Torre managed the Yankees in the postseason, he spoke of this often and followed through.
In the 1996 World Series, he famously benched regular first baseman Tino Martinez and played Cecil Fielder because he thought Fielder was swinging the bat better. In Game 4 of the 2000 World Series, Denny Neagle held the Mets to two runs in 4 2/3 innings and was one out from qualifying for a victory -- and with Mike Piazza coming to the plate, Torre suddenly emerged from the Yankees dugout calling for a right-handed reliever. Earlier in the game, Piazza had homered and blasted a long, long foul ball against Neagle, and when Neagle saw Torre, he was enraged, fuming as he stalked off the mound.
But Torre didn’t worry about that; he just knew that in that moment, in that one at-bat with a one-run lead, he didn’t want Neagle facing Piazza. David Cone relieved the left-hander, and Piazza popped out.
In Game 5, the Yankees had runners on base and Jose Canseco was waiting on Torre’s bench to pinch hit. But Torre went with Luis Sojo, because above all else, he wanted to be sure that the ball was put in play, rather than a strikeout. Sure enough, Sojo hit a bouncer that appeared to hop about 30 times on its way through the infield, driving in the two runs that clinched the World Series. He didn't hit it hard, but he made contact, which is what Torre wanted.
Dusty Baker knows far more about the whole picture of his pitching staff, of who might’ve been available to pitch and who might’ve been nursing some soreness. But in watching the game play out, I couldn’t help but think that the Reds stuck with Johnny Cueto for too long, in a situation in which they couldn’t afford to wait.
The fans in Pittsburgh were all over Cueto, just as Phillies fans had seemingly gotten in the head of Burt Hooton in the 1977 playoffs and had bothered CC Sabathia in 2008, taunting him derisively with his own name. Cueto, struggling to get the ball down in the strike zone, gave up a long home run to Marlon Byrd to lead off the bottom of the second inning. Then, while standing on the mound, Cueto inexplicably dropped the ball, and this just served to fuel the passion of the Pirates fans, who got louder and louder.
And on the next pitch, Cueto gave up a home run to Martin.
At the end of the inning, after Cueto returned to the dugout, Baker walked over to Cueto and encouraged him, and told him he was the best and that he needed him.
But this was a one-game playoff; there was no time for nursing a bruised ego, or trying to figure out why Cueto couldn’t get the ball down. Baker let Cueto bat in the top of the third inning, and in the bottom of the third, the Pirates kept hitting lasers, and by the time Cueto was replaced, with one out in the fourth, Pittsburgh led 3-1 and had a runner in scoring position.
It may have been too late, in a game when there’s no time to wait.
The decibel level was enormous, writes Dejan Kovacevic. The headline on that story reminded me of the Dr. Seuss book "Horton Hears A Who!", and it was Pirates fans yelling: We are here, we are here, we are here!
Johnny Cueto said he wasn’t bothered by the crowd.
Francisco Liriano has a place in Pittsburgh history, writes Ron Cook. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Liriano threw his slider 50 percent of the time (45 of 90 pitches), a season high. The pitch netted 14 outs and yielded one baserunner. He joins Tom Glavine, Fernando Valenzuela and Sandy Koufax as the only left-handers to go at least seven innings and allow four hits or fewer in a winner-take-all postseason game.
Pirates owner Bob Nutting remains true to the process.
Shin-Soo Choo says it’s too early to know what’s going to happen next season. Walt Jocketty made it clear: Dusty Baker will be back.
Brandon Phillips said he choked.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Reds' Past 3 Postseason Appearances
2010: No-hit by Roy Halladay in Game 1 of NLDS, lose series 3-0
2012: Blow 2-0 series lead versus Giants in NLDS, lose series 3-2
2013: Eliminated by Pirates in NL wild-card game
• The Rays could use some roster creativity. Alex Cobb is prepared for the big moment.
• Michael Bourn should be ready for the wild-card game tonight.
• The Dodgers think they’ll work through their injuries, as Billy Witz writes.
• Dan Uggla may be left off the Braves’ playoff roster, writes David O’Brien.
• This season has been a capper for A.J. Ellis, writes Bill Plaschke.
• Lance Lynn is going to pitch Game 2 against the Pirates, writes Derrick Goold.
• Edward Mujica is looking for a fresh start.
• Jim Leyland picked Max Scherzer to start Game 1. Bob Wojnowski thinks the Tigers have the pitching to beat Oakland.
• Detroit is backing off the claim that the Athletics were stealing signs.
• Dan Otero’s role is likely to grow in the playoffs.
• A.J. Griffin is out of the Oakland rotation, and Dan Straily is in.
Red Sox vs. TBD
• Big Papi is going back to the playoffs after a monster season, writes Scott Lauber.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Amanda Comak writes about what the Nationals need to do to contend again. As mentioned here before, this is an extremely difficult roster to alter significantly because it’s filled with young players and some contracts that can’t be moved. But she writes in the article about how Mike Rizzo wants to remake the bullpen and bench.
2. Ruben Amaro says the Phillies must be creative.
3. Brian Cashman has begun the process of working to re-sign Joe Girardi. Joel Sherman thinks that Girardi is going to be offered a big raise. Wrote here the other day that he needs a significant raise to consider staying.
4. The Cubs could learn in the next 24 hours whether they’ll have a shot at Girardi.
5. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Dodgers coach Tim Wallach emerged as a candidate to manage someplace. He has been in the on-deck circle for a couple of teams already, including the Dodgers, and he likely would have been the replacement for Don Mattingly had there been a change in midseason, when L.A. was struggling.
6. The Royals are bracing for some tough decisions. In other words, Ervin Santana.
7. The Angels are expected to announce any forthcoming changes in the next few days. It’s hard to imagine they would retain both manager Mike Scioscia and GM Jerry Dipoto.
8. The Astros shook up their coaching staff.
9. All Twins players could be candidates for a trade, writes Phil Miller.
• The Phillies’ attendance dropped this year.
• Mark Simon takes a look at the many potential free agents who could fit with the Mets.
• Doug Melvin says a strong finish doesn’t change the Brewers’ challenge going forward.
• The Giants have work to do, writes Henry Schulman.
• Mike Dee is the right guy to lead the Padres, writes Nick Canepa.
• Here are some big Orioles moments, courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.
• Dayton Moore explained what he meant by his World Series comment.
• What-ifs plagued the Rangers this year.
• The Mariners’ value has more than doubled during their disastrous run. Seattle CEO Howard Lincoln talked frankly about the Mariners’ future.
• Alex Rodriguez’s side of the story is that he was duped into taking steroids.
• The Yankees’ ratings were way, way down this year, as Richard Sandomir writes -- not surprising, given the star power on their disabled list.
• J.P. Arencibia got engaged.
• Cards for Ron Santo wound up in a dumpster.
• The Marlins’ sale of some tickets from Henderson Alvarez’s no-hitter was botched, somewhat.
And today will be better than yesterday.