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Saturday, October 22, 2005
Updated: October 23, 4:43 AM ET
Questionable moves by Garner

Page 2

Saturday, October 22

Editor's note: David Schoenfield was a one-man second-guesser for the opener of the Fall Classic.

Some random second guessing from Game 1 of the World Series, with memories of Bob Welch striking out Reggie Jackson in 1978 as Bobby Jenks blew a 99-mph fastball past Jeff Bagwell in the eighth inning.

** The easiest second guess of the night is Phil Garner leaving in Mike Lamb to face Neal Cotts with runners at the corners and one out in Houston's fateful eighth. The lefty-hitting Lamb played sparingly against lefty pitchers -- just 56 at-bats all season -- and when he did play, didn't play well, hitting .179 with a .217 on-base percentage. He had just one plate appearance this postseason against a left-handed pitcher, lining into a double play against St. Louis' Randy Flores.

Cotts, meanwhile, has nasty stuff -- lefties hit .206 off him with no home runs and 33 strikeouts in just 102 at-bats. So, the decision seemed pretty clear: go to the bench. Garner doesn't have much there, especially with Bagwell DH-ing, but he did have Chris Burke, who hit .265 vs. lefties and has been swinging well in the postseason.

True, if Garner pinch-hits with Burke, Ozzie Guillen was probably going to bring in Jenks. Granted, Jenks did come in and throw laser beams to five hitters, but we didn't know that at the time. And keep in mind that righties hit .298 off Jenks in the regular season. Essentially, Garner guessed that Lamb was a better bet to put the ball in play off Cotts than Burke was against Jenks. He guessed wrong.

** This inning provided a window into the options we'll see the rest of the series. The Astros don't have much off the bench, especially in the DH games. And Ozzie's deep pen of righties (Jenks, Cliff Politte, Dustin Hermanson, El Duque) and lefties (Cotts, Damaso Marte) means he can mix and match and maybe get the advantage throughout, like he did in Game 1.

** We did see Burke -- pinch-running for Lance Berkman at first base, after Cotts blew away Lamb.

The pinch-running decision seemed a little odd in its timing as well. If you're going to pinch-run, why not do it with one out? Second, while Berkman was the potential go-ahead run, you hadn't yet tied the game; is it wise to take out your best player in a game you're trailing? And if you're going to pinch-run, why do it with the guy who is your best hitter off the bench?

** The injury to Roger Clemens obviously forced Garner to use somebody he didn't intend to in rookie Wandy Rodriguez, but his usage of the lefty was a little strange. The Astros got lucky when Rodriguez got out of a bases-loaded jam with a double play in the fifth, but Garner brought him out for the sixth, even though he had pitched three innings to that point and allowed four hits and four walks, and even though the White Sox hit lefties much better (.271/.335/.447 vs. LHP, .259/.318/.417 vs. RHP). Just because Chad Qualls got them out of the inning doesn't mean it was the right decision to stick with Rodriguez another two batters.

More importantly, in the eighth and still down by one run, Garner left his best relievers on the bench and instead went to his fourth- or fifth-best reliever in Russ Springer. Trailing 4-3 is still a winnable ballgame; this isn't a regular-season game where you know you can't pitch your best guys every game. But in the World Series, you have to use your best pitchers as many innings as possible. Garner did his best to not give his best relievers the ball, in a game that was still close.

Bottom line: Wheeler or Brad Lidge have to pitch the eighth inning of a 4-3 game in the World Series. It's not debatable. The Astros lose this game by two runs and the ninth and 10th pitchers on Garner's staff pitched 4 1/3 innings and gave up two runs while his two best relievers didn't get into the game. That's awful managing.

** A large part of the success of Chicago's rotation in the ALCS was due to the Angels' hitters being overly aggressive and not trying to work the count -- the Angels drew just four walks in five games. The Astros didn't show much more patience against Contreras, who threw just 82 pitches in his seven-plus innings. One inning in particular summed up Houston's approach: In the seventh, Contreras hit two batters, but still threw just eight pitches in the inning. Bagwell was hit on an 0-2 pitch, but Jason Lane fouled out on the first pitch. Ausmus was hit by a pitch, but Adam Everett fouled off the first pitch and then grounded into a fielder's choice. Craig Biggio then grounded out on the first pitch to him.

If the Astros don't try and work the count and draw some walks, it's going to be a quick series.

** Ever since Roger Clemens left Game 6 of the 1986 World Series with a blister -- or not, depending on whether you believe John McNamara or Clemens -- the Rocket has carried a reputation as a mediocre postseason pitcher. So the second guessers will continue to second-guess his clutch ability after his early departure, but it should be pointed out that Clemens had made seven previous World Series starts and was 3-0 with a 1.90 ERA, allowing just 33 hits in 47 innings.

** Jenks threw 14 pitches, 12 for strikes, and I think 11 were clocked at 99. Anyone want to second-guess Ozzie for using the rookie as his closer?

** Oh, and while Bob Welch was a 21-year-old rookie who fanned Reggie for the final out of a 4-3 Dodgers victory in Game 2 in '78, take heart, Astros fans: Reggie got his revenge, hitting a two-run homer off Welch to cap the Yankees' 7-2, Series-clinching victory in Game 6.

Previous Second Guesses
Oct. 19: Lidge needed some closure

Oct. 17: Fear and loathing in Houston

Oct. 16: What was Pujols thinking?

Oct. 15: Sweet Lou in the booth?

Oct. 14: Go with Garland or the 'pen?

Oct. 13: Why pitch Lidge two innings?

Oct. 12: So who's REALLY to blame?

Oct. 11: Ozzie ball backfires on White Sox

Oct. 10: $203 million down the drain

Oct. 9: 'Chris Burke Game' is an all-timer

Oct. 8: Braves' bullpen stinks it up

Oct. 7: Unit left in too long

Oct. 6: Jumpin' on the White Sox bandwagon

Oct. 5: Why leave Wang in the game?

Oct. 4: Colon over Lackey ... say what?