I talked to Robb Nen earlier this year about relieving and he kept coming back to one main idea: go out with your best pitch, do not get beat on your second or third pitch, etc. I understand that from a psychological standpoint; there's a kind of absolution in being unselfconscious, in knowing ahead of time that what your pitch is, in not having to make a decision in the moment of truth. But from a strategic standpoint, it strikes me as old-fashioned to a fault. You have to be willing to think along with, and out in front of, a hitter as smart and talented as Pujols if you want to win that moment. You have to be willing to deviate from "your best pitch," if that pitch is precisely what the hitter expects. There is no shame in getting hit with your second-best pitch, especially if that pitch is a 96-mph heater. At least there's no more shame in that than in getting beaten, like a drum, like a monkey head in a carnival game, with the "best pitch" everyone in the ballpark knew was coming.
David: You know, even Brenly in the booth called the pitch, but he kind of missed the analysis in a way. He said, "You can't throw Pujols a fastball here." He probably said that because the first pitch was a slider at the ankles -- an hittable pitch -- that Pujols swung and missed badly. So by saying, "Don't throw Pujols a fastball" it was obvious -- especially to Pujols, as you say -- that another slider was coming. Now, of course if Lidge throws that same nasty slider as he did on the first pitch, it's not a home run -- but Pujols doesn't swing at it either; he takes it for a ball. I don't have a point, other than you can hang a slider and you can't hang a fastball. And if you get beat on a 97-mph heater, well, you tip your hat and still curl up like a baby.
Eric: Exactly. And I think there's something in this moment that isn't just about the Astros being snakebitten, or Pujols being unbelievably good. I think there's something about slavish devotion to a familiar idea. Pujols beat Lidge here, but Lidge helped him a bit, and not just with where the ball went but with where his head was. It will be interesting to watch Lidge in the next one or two games now. Garner will back him and come back to him, and he should, and so the question will be: Does Brad toy with what he does at all? Does he mix things up? It's a hard thing to do, no doubt. But if you're Brad, the question you have to ask yourself is: Is it harder than watching Pujols launch your ball up into the night?
Previous Second Guesses
• Oct. 16: What was Pujols thinking?