Saturday, April 21, 2007

Thinking inside the box

Nobody likes a second-guesser or a Monday morning quarterback. Those types swoop in after the fact and offer a told-you-so type of opinion that really is quite gutless. Where were they on the first guess, is what I want to know. For those of us struggling with the first guess, we need all the help we can get. If the second-guessers are so smart, jump in and help out the first time.

Second guessing is unoriginal and boring. But sports-type people have dined out on it for decades. That said, let’s dish a little on the eighth and ninth innings of the Phillies’ inexplicable, 2-1 loss to the Reds, shall we?

What, you think we’re too good for second-guessing Charlie Manuel.


Actually, my second guess is very simple and uncomplicated. I am, at heart, a simpleton – maybe even a little naïve, but that’s a different story. If something is broken, fix it. Otherwise, leave it alone. Simple.

But with Brett Myers, a starter for his entire career until two days ago, the manager Charlie Manuel was victimized by some compartmental thinking on Friday night in Cincinnati. By compartmental thinking we mean the set-up man pitches the eighth inning and the so-called closer pitches the ninth inning and never shall the two overlap. On Friday that thinking cost the Phillies the game.

Brett Myers should have pitched the eighth and the ninth innings on Friday. It’s as simple as that. Tom Gordon, the closer for now, has struggled all season long and admits that he is a bit behind because he took a week off during spring training to have his shoulder checked out. He also seems to rely much more on his fastball as opposed to his go-to curve.

Plus, Gordon struggled to get a save against the Nationals just the day before and since Manuel said he was reluctant to use the so-called closer on back-to-back days after he struggled during the second-half of 2006 because of overuse, it seemed like using Myers for two innings was logical.

Besides, who says a closer can only pitch the ninth? Under Manuel, Gordon pitched 59 1/3 innings in 59 games in 2006, while Billy Wagner worked 77 2/3 innings in 75 appearances. Clearly that shows that closers work just one inning for Manuel.

Brett Myers doesn’t have to be so limited. He was a workhorse starter just this week who averaged close to seven innings per outing during his career. So what does it hurt if he closes out a game by going two innings? Gordon’s ego, perhaps? Please. At 4-11 the Phillies are long past worrying about such trivialities. The point is if Myers is going to be moved to the bullpen to pacify Jon Lieber (who pitched rather well as a starter on Friday night – looks like he was “comfortable” after pouting his way back into the rotation), he should be used as a weapon instead of just a cog in the machine.

Asked about it after the loss to the Reds, Manuel told reporters: “Right now, Gordon is our closer. He's been a closer. We signed him to be a closer. . . . That's something we haven't even discussed, and in some ways there's no need to discuss it. We've got to get him sharp. The stuff is there.”

Joe Torre uses Mariano Rivera for two-inning saves from time to time. Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Rich Gossage and Kent Tekulve (among others) pitched multiple innings as a matter of course during their work closing out games.

So why couldn’t Brett Myers do that on Friday night?

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