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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Baseball Break - Dodgers Fall a Penny Short

- I went to the Mets game today. Shea Stadium has seen its better days to be sure, and the sight of the seeds of construction of a new stadium out beyond center field foretells of its imminent, and well-deserved demise. But today, it was electric as playoff-starved fans got their first taste since seeing the Yanks celebrate on the field in 2000. Now, it was the Dodgers, another opponent with no names on their backs, and when Carlos Delgado took the throw from David Wright to end a 1-2-3 first inning, the crowd erupted as if someone had hit a grand slam.

LA's manager Grady Little is definitely in for second guessing in his first postseason appearance since leaving Pedro Martinez in for the 8th inning in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium in 2003. The Dodgers had put up a three spot in the 7th, climaxed by a dramatic two-out, two-strike double by Nomar Garciaparra (LA scored 4 of its 5 runs with two men out) that silenced the roaring crowd with a crushing hushhhhh.

This is one of my big pet peeves, when you see a manager deviate from what got his team into the playoffs in the first place, and bring a starting pitcher into relieve in a tight game. You usually see it towards the end of a series, when the situation is desperate, or when the finish line seems so close that he can't resist. But this was Game 1, and Brad Penny had only made one relief appearance in his life. It was apparent from the first pitches that he wasn't comfortable and that he couldn't throw strikes. With 54 walks in 189 innings this year, he's not particularly prone to control problems, but he walked Reyes leading off, and if I was the manager, he would have been out of the game right then and there....well, he never would have been in the game in the first place. Penny threw 12 balls out of 24 pitches, walked two of the first three batters he faced, and they, of course, both scored.

But the Dodgers' biggest blunder took place in the second, when they had two runners thrown out at home on the same play. The old single into a 9-4-2 double play. Actually, there were two crucial errors here; Jeff Kent, on second, held up to see if Russell Martin's fly ball down the right field line would be caught. From where I was sitting, anyway (in Section 1, as one of my envious readers knows) there was no way in hell that Shawn Green was catching that ball. In fact, I thought that Green had cleverly bluffed Kent into thinking that he had a chance. But watching the replay later, I saw that Green was just slow.

Benefiting from a fortunate carom off the wall, he fired the ball to Jose Valentin, who made a perfect relay throw to nail Kent. J.D. Drew, who was close behind, was inexplicably waved home; or at least I think he was from the sheepish expression on the face of third base coach Rich Donnelly as seen on ESPN's highlights. Drew had no chance whatsoever to be anything but out by a mile, and the only reason the play was close is that Paul LoDuca couldn't have possibly imagined that he would be coming. And even though Marlon Anderson followed with a clutch run-scoring double to take the lead, the wasted chance would come back to haunt them.

The Mets hung on despite leaving the bases loaded twice - once when Willie Randolph allowed reliever Guillermo Mota to bat in the 6th (he gave up the three runs in the next inning), and again when Carlos Delgado, bidding to have the audacity to barge in on Derek Jeter's five-hit parade, went down swinging at 100 MPH heat from Jonathan Broxton. As so often happens, Nomar had a chance for further heroics with the tying run on second and two gone in the ninth, but he got tied up by a Billy Wagner slider that was in the dirt. Mets fans were delirious leaving the stadium. Their team had survived despite twice losing their scheduled Game 1 starter for the rest of the season.

- I'm wondering if Randolph left Mota in to hit because he didn't anticipate the situation far enough in advance, and thus didn't have any relievers ready to come into the game.

- Amazing job by ESPN digging up the video of a very similar play to the double tag-outs at home that occurred in a regular season game in 1985. It happened at Yankee Stadium, with the White Sox' Carlton Fisk doing the honors at home plate. Yeah, I knew I'd seen that before.


Anonymous said...

Penny had been warming up during the previous inning, when the Mets had a runner on base with less than 2 outs, and it looked like they might be in need of a strikeout (to help get them out of a "jam" situation, when they were already behind and couldn't afford any more runs). As for Penny's relief rexperience, you may remember that he started the All-Star Game eariler this year, when pitchers will only go two inning tops. In fact, he struck out the side in the 1st inning, so i'm reasonably sure that's what Grady Little's intent was. I'm not sure why they'd send him out to start the next inning (especially after the Dodgers had just tied the game), but i guess they figured he was already warm, and would likely get them thru another inning unscathed. That obviously didn't work out. Great game, btw.

Anonymous said...

Willie could have pulled a double switch when brining Mota into the game and avoided the situation.

Irregardless, if this situation did not call out for pinch hitter extraordinaire France, when will we see him? Since when did Mota become so essential and a two inning reliever?

Nonetheless, a win is a win.

Ruben Bailey said...