Wednesday, May 10, 2006

ENTER SANDBAGMAN

Tough loss to the Phils last night. And even tougher when you consider that it was right-handed set up man, Aaron Heilman, and not stupendously expensive left-handed closer, Billy Wagner, on the hill when the cream cheese hit the fan.

Which is galling. Despite Heilman's well-noted success against them, he's no better facing lefties than righties. And even though Wagner doesn't enjoy the advantage over lefties one would expect, he experiences no drop-off either. The only significant factor in play last night? The last two Phillie hitters that Heilman threw to, lefties Bobby Abreu & Chase Utley, are significantly worse hitters against left-handed pitching. And this has been the conventional wisdom on Abreu for years. The fact that after a decade-long career of excellent hitting, the stats actually back it up, doesn't help Willie Randolph's cause.

Willie told reporters Wagner wasn't even warming in the ninth as Heilman faced Utley & Abreu because he "didn't want to use his closer in a tie game on the road." Say what? How about one-run leads at home when the hot dog vendors are out of buns? Or two-run leads in Western Division hitters parks when airplanes are flying less than 6,000 feet overhead? I mean, c'mon, gimme a break.

I wonder if Randolph's explanation included the implied clauses, "especially when that road game is the in the home park of the former teammates he idiotically ripped over the weekend," or "and he has a torn tendon on his goddamn pitching hand."

But I think we know the answer.

I despise the compartmentalization of baseball roles since Tony LaRussa's inexplicable deification (can someone explain to me why a man who has won one World Series -- and won it 17 years ago with Rickey, McGwire, Canseco & Eckersley -- is a "Genius"?). But Wagner was hired to fill the role of "closer." He's paid a lot of money. He's supposed to be a marquee player. Isn't a game like last night's the situation he was brought in to perform in?

On the road, tough crowd, divisional rival on an eight game winning streak, Pedro K's ten, Delgado ties the game with a dramatic homer, Heilman gets two outs before giving up a triple and hitting a batter, two tough lefties due up.

And the always brutal fielding Aaron Heilman literally throws it away as Wagner chews sunflower seeds in the bullpen, thinking of additional witticisms to direct at Pat Burrell (not the guy Met fans wanna see angry, by the way), as he heals his wounded finger & avoids the famous Philly boo-birds? For this the Mets avoided paying the big bucks to B.J. Ryan, he of the 7 saves in 7 opportunities on six baserunners and one run in 15 innings?

I'll finish writing this when I stop convulsing & pick myself off the floor.

If Wagner's injured, put him on the DL, with the other 3/4 of the Met pitching staff. If he can't handle the pressure of closing in front of a tough crowd, demote him to set-up and let Heilman or Duaner Sanchez get used to their new role. Hell, promote the re-born Jorge Julio to the role.

Or maybe not.

But this leave-your-stopper-in-the-bullpen-because-the-LaRussa-reliever-rules-mandate-no-use-of-the-closer-in-tie-road-games crap has gotta stop. And the coddling of injured & big-mouthed closers with 70% save percentages never should have been allowed to gain traction from day one.

Wagner's actually been one of the few weak links this season, and his role will only grow in prominence as the months go on. This situation needs to be solved. And soon.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dwilkers said...

OK that post had me rolling on the floor.

In fairness, whenever a manager uses a closer in a tie game like that and loses he looks stupid, and whenever they don't and get whupped they also look stupid. Its one of the biggest loser calls in the game either way.

You make a good point about Abreu vs lefties though - this might have been a good time to make that call.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

Your point re "damned if you do, damned if you don't" is a good one.

One of the regular posters here ("Applesaucer") makes that point persuasively. Perhaps he'll pipe in on it.

11:37 AM  

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