Page 2 staff

Sunday, October 10
If you know an Astros fan older than 25, pat him or her on the back, rub their shoulders, give them a cup of hot tea to calm their nerves, and say, "This isn't 1980. This isn't 1980. This isn't 1980. At least not yet ..."

Man, what a wild and wacky game Sunday between Houston and Atlanta. Of course, much of the wackiness came from the mind of Phil Garner. Even Joe Morgan was prompted to say, "I've seen some things today that I don't think ever seen in a game before."

We're here to Second Guess, so let's get down to business and begin Garner's laundry list.

1. The double-switch in the top of the 7th. Morgan and Jon Miller questioned this move at the time, and they were right. By now, the game was tied 5-5, and Mike Gallo replaced Chad Qualls on the mound for the Astros. Gallo went into the No. 1 spot in the order, replacing Craig Biggio, with Jason Lane going to left field and hitting ninth.

The problem is Garner only picked up one spot in the batting order. The last out in the sixth was by the No. 2 hitter, Carlos Beltran, so the pitcher's spot was still seven batters away. You don't double-switch when the pitcher's spot is still that far down the order. You're not gaining much, and you're losing Craig Biggio from the game.

2. Not double-switching when Brad Lidge came in the game.

After Dan Miceli walked Johnny Estrada with one out in the 8th, Garner went to his best pitcher, Brad Lidge. Can't fault that move much -- tie game, you don't want to mess around too long with Miceli.

But the last out in the 7th was by No. 5 hitter Jeff Kent, so Lidge's spot (No. 1) was now only five spots away. This is when you double-switch, because if you bring in Lidge you have to make sure he's in there for the 9th inning. The right move would have been to take out Kent, with Adam Everett going to shortstop, hitting No. 1 (or, preferably, hitting No. 9 with Biggio still in the game), and Jose Vizcaino sliding over to second.

This way, if the Astros mount a rally in the bottom of the 8th, Lidge's spot won't come up. And if it does -- well, that means they've scored a run or two and Lidge can hit with Houston leading and then close out the Braves in the top of the ninth.

Instead, neither Garner nor his bench coach recognized this need. So, sure enough, the Astros get two-out singles from Brad Ausmus and Jason Lane, bringing up Lidge. He comes out of the game after throwing just seven pitches. Pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro grounds out, keeping the game tied.

3. Pitching to J.D. Drew in the top of the ninth.

With two outs, Russ Springer plunked Rafael Furcal with a two-strike fastball. With Drew up, Furcal stole second. After Springer fell behind 3 balls, 1 strike, Joe Morgan -- who had a terrific game -- thought Houston should walk Drew and pitch to Marcus Giles.

Joe wasn't looking at the stats, but here they are:

Drew vs. RH: .313/.450/.593
Giles vs. RH: .282/.341/.369

Intentional walks are used too often, but this certainly seemed like the time for one. You've got 31 points in batting average and over 200 points in slugging percentage to consider. You've got one of the NL's best hitters, especially, against right-handed pitchers, in Drew. And you're behind in the count. Why screw around?

Anyway, on the 3-1 pitch, Springer threw a curveball that looked outside, but was called a strike (how would things be different if it had been called ball four?). Suddenly emboldened to go after Drew, Ausmus -- hailed as a great game-caller, mind you -- calls for a fastball, and Drew ripped it for the go-ahead single.

True, Drew had struggled in the series and had fanned his previous two at-bats -- but Giles was only 2-for-19 in the series.

4. Taking out Roger Clemens after five innings.

We'll skip the debate over whether Clemens should even have been starting, but I think taking out Clemens with a 5-2 lead was defensible. He was pitching on three days' rest, had allowed eight baserunners in five innings and was lucky to have escaped with only two runs.

On the other hand, you've got one of the greatest pitchers of all time ... or Chad Qualls.
--David Schoenfield

Second Guessing, Second Takes
We question ...

If you're wondering what happened in 1980. Houston led Philadelphia 2 games to 1 in the best-of-5 NLCS. They led Game 4, 2-0 in the 8th, when starter Vern Ruhle was left in to allow three straight hits. The Phillies took the lead, the Astros tied it in the 9th, and the Phillies scored two in the 10th.

In Game 5, also in the Astrodome, Houston led 5-2 in the 8th with Nolan Ryan pitching. The first four batters reached off Ryan, and the Phillies scored five in the inning for a 7-5 lead. Houston tied it in the 8th, but Philadephia won it with a run in the 10th. Truly an astounding series -- check out retrosheet.org for the play-by-play.

The umpiring so far in the playoffs. Seems like there have been a lot of missed calls so far, including easy ones on the bases, like Milton Bradley being called out at first on Sunday night, or the Jose Lima bunt play from Game 3 (two wrong calls on one play).

John Smoltz's emotion after getting Jeff Kent to ground into a game-ending double play. We don't question the emotion -- it was nice to see an Atlanta player actually show some for a change. We just question where that's been from the Braves all these years.

If Odalis Perez's nerves are still all jingly.

If Eric Gagne was perhaps talking to Dodgers owner Frank McCourt before the game about not pitching a meaningful inning in the series.

The thickness of Albert Pujols' forearms. Because them suckers are thick.

How Phil Garner slept Sunday night, knowing he has Roy Oswalt going in Game 5 on three days' rest, while Bobby Cox has Jaret Wright pitching on four days' rest.

If Roger Clemens couldn't give the Astros a batter or two in Game 5.

Previous editions of Second Guessing
Oct. 9: Ten things on Twins-Yankees

Oct. 8: Angels decide to go with Jarrod Washburn

Oct. 7: Did Bobby Cox play too much Small Ball?

Oct. 6: Ron Gardenhire leaves in Joe Nathan