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Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Updated: October 12, 11:18 AM ET
Cursed if you do … cursed if you don't

By Jim Caple
Page 2

Off Base

Did your team lose in the postseason? Then blame the manager. It's all his fault.

The Cubs were swept in the division series, and it wasn't because Arizona's pitching held Chicago batters under the Mendoza Line. Not at all. As everyone knows, it was because manager Lou Piniella took out ace Carlos Zambrano too early in Game 1.

The Phillies got swept in their division series, and it wasn't because Colorado's pitching shut down the top of the Philadelphia lineup. It was because manager Charlie Manuel took out Kyle Kendrick and brought in Kyle Lohse in the fourth inning of Game 2.

Remember: It's always the manager's fault.

Lou Piniella
Never mind what any of the players did on the field. Clearly, it's all Lou Piniella's fault that the Cubs were swept by the D-backs.

When a reporter asked Piniella after Game 1 of the Cubs-Snakes series whether he might be accused of looking ahead in the series, Lou snapped, "I'm not accused of anything, sir!" Piniella was right. He hasn't been accused. We no longer have time for accusations in our 24/7 sports world. When a scapegoat must be found for each and every loss, we now go directly to verdict and sentencing. And the verdict is always the same in the postseason:

You, sir, are a moron.

Managing in the postseason is like juggling chainsaws blindfolded while wearing an oven mitt in a nightclub frequented by Pacman Jones. You're lucky to escape with all your limbs. Consider the whole debate about starting a pitcher on three days' rest. If a manager does it, he immediately is guilty of panicking and ignoring statistics that show pitchers are 29-52 on three days' rest in the postseason since 1995. If a manager decides not to start his pitcher on short rest, he immediately is guilty of looking ahead in the playoffs and not going for the kill with his best pitcher.

Case in point: Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. When choosing his Game 4 starter in the series against the Yankees, he had two options: He could be called an idiot or he could be called a moron. After careful consideration, he chose to be called an idiot by going with his No. 4 starter, Paul Byrd, instead of starting C.C. Sabathia on three days' rest.

Never mind that Byrd had won 15 games this season. Never mind that Sabathia had pitched close to 250 innings this year, was coming off a stressful 114-pitch Game 1 and had little experience pitching on short rest. Never mind that Cleveland held a 2-1 lead in the series and didn't need to panic -- the verdict was Byrd would get lit up, the Yankees would win and Wedge was an idiot.

Amazing, wasn't it, how many points Wedge's IQ rose in a couple hours that night?

Short rest is a fun debate. The overall stats don't look good, but remember, what other pitchers did on short rest has little bearing on what another pitcher might do. Basing a decision solely on what other players did is like keeping David Ortiz on the bench against a left-handed pitcher because left-handed hitters generally don't do as well against southpaws. Each decision must be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the starter who would pitch on short rest and the available alternatives.

And who do you think is in a better position to make that decision? A manager who has been with his players every day since February (and often for years before that), who has full access to their medical condition, who has been monitoring their performance since Opening Day, who can speak with them personally and look them in the eye, who can consult with the catcher and the pitching coach about their recent effectiveness, and who has made these type of real-life decisions -- and lived with the consequences -- for his entire managerial career?

Don't be ridiculous. The manager is a moron (or an idiot). Such decisions can only be made by a bunch of guys in the press box who spend the game surfing the Web, bitching at the PR people when the wireless goes down and asking someone else how the last batter got out. Well, either by the writers, or by the fans who spend more time on the phone with talk radio hosts than they do talking with their own wives and kids.

"How many guys are in this room?" Piniella said last week to a room of reporters questioning him about the Zambrano decision. "Count them. That's how many managers there are in here."

Damn right, Lou. And don't forget, we know more about your team than you do. Don't believe us? Then just check out our stories after the game.

There is an important corollary to the "manager is an idiot (or moron)" rule: The players are never responsible. Why? Because, the manager is ALWAYS wrong.

Kaz Matsui (17 career home runs) hits a grand slam against Kyle Lohse? Don't blame Lohse. After all, he's just the pitcher who grooved the ball to Matsui. The true fault lies with Manuel, because he is a moron for bringing in a pitcher who gave up a grand slam. Carlos Marmol gives up a tiebreaking home run to Mark Reynolds? Don't blame Marmol, who merely threw the gopher ball. The full responsibility belongs to Piniella, because he is an idiot for not knowing that one of his best and most reliable relievers was going to give up two runs.

Remember: The players have absolutely NOTHING to do with what happens after a manager's decision. If a managerial move doesn't work out, it's never because a pitcher's location was off, or a batter swung at a ball in the dirt, or an outfielder lost a ball in the lights, or a ball landed inches fair instead of inches foul, or an infielder made a bad throw, or that's just the way baseball goes sometimes. No, there has to be someone we can blame, and the logical person is the manager.

Why? Because the manager is ALWAYS to blame.

Unless, of course, it was A-Rod's fault.

BOX SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK

Quite a night last Friday in Cleveland. There the Yankees and the Indians were, playing a hell of a baseball game, and all of a sudden, "The Amityville Horror" breaks out.

Even the most strident of Yankees haters had to feel a little sympathy for rookie reliever Joba Chamberlain when the bugs descended on the stadium in the eighth inning. (C'mon, at least a little sympathy?) Chamberlain shut down a Cleveland threat in the seventh inning, but when he took the mound with a 1-0 lead in the eighth, insects swarmed the field and covered Chamberlain's face and neck. It's never easy to pitch in the postseason, but it's especially tough when you're in the middle of a scene from the Old Testament. Distracted by the bugs, Chamberlain walked two batters, hit another and threw a game-tying wild pitch in an eventual New York loss.

Joba's line:
1 2/3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 WP, 1 HBP

The question, meanwhile, remains: What was responsible for the sudden swarm? The unseasonably hot, muggy weather, a vengeful God, Joe Torre's managing or the usual suspect, A-Rod?

INFIELD CHATTER

"Happy Columbus Day. Banks are closed. Post office is closed. Shea Stadium is closed … "

-- David Letterman

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His new book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.