Wednesday, Oct. 19
Editor's note: Rob Neyer and Eric Neel were second-guessing how long Phil Garner planned to keep Roy Oswalt in the game, and wondered why Garner didn't allow Brad Lidge to exorcise his demons and close out the series-clinching victory. And Rob and Eric make a big pitch for ... throwback unis! Here is the live transmission of their discussion during the end of Game 6 ...
Rob Neyer: It's the top of the seventh inning, the Astros are threatening to add to their 4-1 lead, and Roy Oswalt has thrown 106 pitches. I know we don't yet know what's going to happen -- how many runs the Astros might score, but as it stands, it's interesting to think about what the Astros should do with Oswalt in the bottom of the inning.
Eric Neel: This is sort of the classic managerial moment coming up for Phil Garner. There's a legit case to be made that he should stay with Oswalt for one more inning, or until Roy gets in trouble. There's also a good case to be made that he move to Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge from here on out, given Oswalt's pitch count and the fact that the last two innings have been his toughest.
Rob: I think this is one of those spots where it's very difficult for us to know enough; if you're the manager (or probably the pitching coach), you simply ask Oswalt how he's feeling. If he says he's fine and (this is critical) you believe him, then you probably let him go out there for the seventh (while making sure Wheeler and/or Qualls is ready to go at the first sign of real trouble). Why? Well, your top relievers are precious. You don't want to use them until you're at least moderately sure that you need them. So again, depending on how Oswalt feels, I'd be inclined to give him a few more batters.
Eric: You're spot-on. What's interesting to me is the psychology of the moment, as much as we can imagine it anyway. Oswalt will almost certainly want to go back out there, will want to believe he's got enough to keep going. So will he be honest with Garner if, for example, he's tiring? Will he trust the pen? Will he be willing to live with sitting down? And if not, does his wanting to continue give him anything extra, even some little something? I know these are unanswerable questions, but they're what fascinate me about the moment.
Rob: Well, again, that's the manager's (and/or the pitching coach's) job. Ideally, the manager/coach knows his pitcher well enough to know if he's being honest. ... Anyway, we're just back from commercial, and Mr. Oswalt is warming up on the mound.
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Eric: Just heard a number on Fox saying he hadn't thrown this many pitches since July ... which is fine. The postseason is a time in which you expect your horses to be horses.
If I'm Garner, the one thing I'm trusting here, maybe just as much as Roy's word, is the gun. Roy is still throwing real, real hard.
Rob: Ah, don't fall into that trap, Eric. That's the crutch that every manager and pitching coach have used for years to justify letting some freckle-faced kid throw 130 pitches ... "But his velocity was still good!" As Rany Jazayerli will tell you, when a pitcher's tired -- and I'm not saying that Oswalt is -- he can compensate for the tired arm with other parts and pieces, which can lead to injury or (more often) poorly located pitches. Anyway, while I was writing this, Mr. Oswalt finished the seventh and I'll be shocked if Garner doesn't go to the pen now.
Eric: Good point. But what I'm saying is there's no way Garner's NOT watching that gun, and there's very little chance that what he's seeing there isn't coloring his decisions. Oswalt hasn't just been OK tonight; he's been electric. His fastball (and he's thrown, what, maybe 10 breaking balls all night) has been like a watch the hypnotist waves in front of your eyes, casting hitters, managers, fans, and writers under its mesmerizing spell.
The other thing to consider here is the possibility that Garner, managing with an eye to the Astros' painful history -- heck, managing with an eye to Monday night and Pujols' moonshot -- is loathe to put this game on his pen. Under normal circumstances, yes, he goes to the pen now, but it's interesting because "normal" for the Astros is a long trail of horrific, excruciating damnation. I'm not saying he won't use the pen; I'm just saying it won't shock me if he doesn't.
Eric: So it's the bottom of the eighth, and sure enough they sit him. Smart baseball move. No doubt. He'd thrown 118 pitches. Garner impresses me there, cutting through the layers of black magic and bad feeling.
Rob: By the way, it's not true that Oswalt hasn't thrown more than 106 pitches since July. He threw 123 on July 26, 107 in each of his next two starts, and more than 105 in four or five other starts (high of 110). But yeah, asking him to pitch the eighth would have been pushing his established limit. I'm not surprised he's out of there.