Results tagged ‘ Brad Lidge ’

Fantasy Baseball Advice For The Late Drafter

You don’t really want to know about my fantasy teams (well, except the name of the American League one, which I think achieves our league’s annual goal: the ideal conflation of current events and baseball – The Moammar Garciaparras). But you may yet gain some useful info from the two fairly early drafts, one for each league, which occupied much of my weekend.

Biggest news I can now share is that while in Florida, every Philly source I talked to – from the casual ones who talked a lot, to the in-the-know ones who tried to say nothing – left me with the same impression: Chase Utley is not going to play baseball this year. Supposedly they are trying rest and minor rehab now, which will tell them whether there is a remote possibility that more rest and more extensive rehab later could preclude surgery. If not, they’re going to cut him. Even if they decide they can get away without opening up the knee, that rest-and-rehab route could just as easily cost him the season.

So I guess nominating him in our auction this afternoon while there was still decent money on the table makes me a stinker?

Still, I’m not the one who paid $16 for him. Other injuries of unknown duration also did not scare a free spending NL-only league (sixth year, second auction, some real sharp fans). Mat Latos went for $20 even though the Padres are so strapped that Tim Stauffer will start on Opening Day. Brian Wilson still fetched $17 (comparison: Heath Bell, $18). Very late – after Francisco Cordero had gone for $15 and Brandon Lyon for $7, we shelled out $13 for J.J. Putz and $6 more for Brad Lidge. Both Jose Contreras and Ryan Madson were picked up as collars for Lidge (I think it’ll be Contreras) and Daniel Hernandez was an excellent no-risk flyer for Putz.

There was the usual star-sniffing inflation among the impact players. Most valuations of Hanley Ramirez place him at around $39 in an NL-only operation. He sold for $45. I reached past his likely $36 value to pay $42 for Carlos Gonzalez, and if Troy Tulowitzki’s inflation from $28 to $38 shocks you, or David Wright’s growth from $27 to $38 – you’d better sit down for these next two. Several of us must have read Matthew Berry’s note on how well Dan Uggla has hit lifetime in Atlanta, because he may have been valued at $22, but I gave up on him at $33.

And best of all was Mike Stanton of the Marlins, whom most analysts have pegged at a value of $20 or so. I think Stanton is going to bust through all ceilings this year, and so did another bidder. I won him – at $36. Before you think we’re daft, I won the league last year and the fella who was willing to pay $35 finished second.

I suspect his Florida teammate Logan Morrison will also turn heads before October, and the Pedro Alvarez I saw at third base in Florida two weeks ago had the confidence of an All-Star. What else did I pick up that you can use? Ian Desmond will lead off for the Nationals this year and Jayson Werth will inexplicably hit second. This means lovely things for Mr. Desmond. Brian McCann is saying all the right things after the Luis Salazar nightmare, when he was ready to retire when he thought he’d killed the man. But he hasn’t hit a lick since. He’s still the best, but be careful.

Lastly: on NL pitching, if you wait for it, it will come. Lincecum cost $33, Halladay $29, Kershaw $27 (the Commissioner is a Dodger fan who brings a radio with him to the games), Cain $24 (one guy named his team “Your World Champion Giants”), Cris Carpenter, Tommy Hanson and Ubaldo Jimenez $22 each. But I put together a perfectly respectable starting rotation of R.A. Dickey, Jaime Garcia, James McDonald, Javier Vazquez and Carlos Zambrano for $22 (and stashed Johan Santana and – what the heck, Strasburg – for another $3).

If you care, here are my guys and their values. All but Soriano ($15) and Carlos Lee ($14) were on my “Favorites” list – and I happily took them at what I saw as 25-30% discounts. The rest of these choices I firmly endorse (although Alex Gonzalez may be wildly overpriced at $2). SP I mentioned. Bullpen: Axford $11, Lyon $7, Romo $4, Contreras $1 (we count holds). C: Buck $3. IF: Sandoval $19, Alvarez $16, Kelly Johnson $16, Lee $14, Espinosa $3, Alex Gonzalez $2, Chris Johnson $2. OF: C. Gonzalez $42, Stanton $36, Victorino $22, Hart $19, Soriano $15, $2 Morrison. Santana and Strasburg will go on our two-man DL to be replaced by a free agent starter and another set-up man.

My American League info will be of less use to you because in this one we do not start annually from scratch. There are keepers – up to six of them – and not everybody has the same idea what they are for (I kept an underpriced Nick Swisher at $12 and five guys at a buck apiece; a dear friend of mine kept Mauer and Teixeira – at $42 apiece). But I do have some useful info, most of it pertaining to the wonders that hitting coach Kevin Seitzer appears to be working for Kansas City. Kila Ka’aihue is powdering the ball and will push Billy Butler to DH. Melky Cabrera has lost weight and regained bat speed. And the Siren’s Call is being heard again: “Alex Gordon! Al Exxxxxx Gorrrrr Dun!” Line drives are flying off his bat and witnesses say he perfected first his new swing and then his new timing mechanisms. In any mixed league you should be able to get these guys very cheap, and probably only in an AL-only league is Ka’ahuie on the radar.

Also: fear of injury just doesn’t seem to register. Kendrys Morales went for $25 in our league, even though a likelier estimate of his contribution this year is about $18. Francisco Liriano still got a $21 pricetag, and in one of the more mystifying results, David Aardsma, who a year ago went healthy at $9, went this year, injured, for $12.

My team will indicate who I expect to flower in the AL this season. The freezes were Swisher, J.P. Arencibia, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Lewis, Joe Nathan, and C.J. Wilson. More relevantly, these are the new purchases: (SP) Haren $26, G. Gonzalez $9 (most reports from Arizona agreed: Most Improved Pitcher this spring), Pineda $2, Matsuzaka $1 (I think he will do very well this year; he seems to be really listening to the new pitching coach Curt Young), Niemann $1. (RP – again, holds count): C. Perez $15, Jenks $3, Farnsworth $1. (C) Napoli $12. (IF) A. Gonzalez $38, A. Rodriguez $38, Nishioka $15 (this is a rookie of the year candidate), Hardy $5 (another bounce back year – he was described to me as “the 2007 J.J.”), C. Guillen $2, Dan Johnson $2. (OF) Crawford $40, Raburn $15, Ordonez $7, Gordon $6, Cabrera $2.

The only other insight I have from the AL is the Rays’ bullpen. It is unlikely that Joe Maddon will make Jake McGee his closer early or maybe at all – too valuable as a lefty specialist. Like dozens before him, he will give Farnsworth a try. If you don’t have to invest too much in him, you can, too. The real story of the spring has been how good the much traveled Juan Cruz has looked, though he’s more likely to wind up as the 8th inning man.

Final point: drafting has its rewards and I’m not going to call anybody who prefers it names, but if you want to be tested and challenged, once you go Auction, you’ll never go back. There is a palpable energy curve during the thing and a tremendous sense of fairness – you never get stuck with the 10th pick and thus miss on the best (and your favorite) nine players. If you didn’t get Pujols, you have nobody to blame (or commend) but yourself.

But it is essential that you price every player and stick – within reason – to individual price. It is also necessary to push players – the ones you want and the ones you don’t – up to within at least a couple of bucks of where you’ve priced them. And until you’ve nominated about 10-12 guys do not nominate a player you actually want. It is your job to get as much money off the table as possible. Are there guys in your league who are more loyal to their real-life team than the one they’re putting together? Bleed them. Make sure Aubrey Huff goes for more than he could be possibly worth, and make sure you shove those ailing stars out there as early as you can (I not only nominated Utley, I also nominated Brian Wilson). Eventually the madcap money will vanish – all at once you will look up and realize you can’t afford to pay more than $6 for anybody (and neither can anybody else) and the second half of the draft will be filled with a mix of bargains and desperation. It is essential to be able to stock 15 roster spots with $75 or less and be happy with the outcome.

In both leagues we play ESPN’s version and its auction function is pretty darn good. But a glitch seems to have developed this year that cost one owner in each league dearly – irreparably, in fact. If you let the computer literally do your bidding for you, unless you go in and set your own personalized values for each player, the program will bid conservatively – often stopping five or six bucks shy of the “official” ESPN value of a player – on some sort of computer-logic premise that it can spend your money much more efficiently later. This left our owner who couldn’t attend the auction with no fewer than 18 $1 players and $192 in unspent auction money that doesn’t even buy him a discount on ESPN The Magazine. Even last year’s second-place guy who did put in his own values still got screwed. He came home with Ryan Howard, Wright, Tulo, Lincecum, Cain, and ten $1 pitchers. So if you want the highest form of Fantasy Baseball fun, go with the auction. And if you want to survive the auction, do not do it on auto-pilot.

Besides which, why would you want to? As one of our more astute owners said today, counting holidays and his exciting film and tv career and, I assume, even his exciting dating life, this is the happiest day of his year.

Phils And Yankees: Not Their Year

CLEARWATER – As the Yankees hoped that after his minor stumble on some balky carpet that Yogi Berra has that insurance, you know, the kind that pays you cash, which is just as good as money, CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay met up in Clearwater in a dream match-up. Literally a dream, because you don’t need to spend looking much time at either roster to realize that despite the Phillies’ glittering rotation and the Yankees’ three Hall-of-Famers in waiting, neither of these teams is going very deep in the post-season (presuming they make it at all). This is contrary to Conventional Wisdom, which was last heard from telling you that Cliff Lee was going to the Yankees last winter, just as it had told you he was going to them last July. Lee is part of the Yankees’ most obvious problem: based on performance so far, Bartolo Colon is a) a vampire and b) their number two starter. Colon, with his ten-pitch warm-up sessions and newly refound control, has been a joyous mystery even to his new pitching coach Larry Rothschild. But comebacks like his almost always fizzle before the first of June and the Yanks have a long way to before Manny Banuelos, Andrew Brackman, and/or Dellin Betances join the rotation or buy them a veteran starter. The Yankees are also aging alarmingly. I will spare you my usual pronouncements on how moribund Derek Jeter is, but the recent pronouncement that Jorge Posada would not even be used as a temporary back-up catcher should tell you exactly how little the Yanks think he has left. The joke around here is that Cameron Diaz was feeding Alex Rodriguez popcorn in that Super Bowl luxury suite because he now gets too tired doing it himself. Jesus Montero offers a glimmer of youth but the reality is that in two at bats today, Roy Halladay made him look like he’d never been to the plate before (to be fair, Halladay did the same thing to Robby Cano). The Yanks only matchup with Boston at the back of the bullpen and if their lineup is better than Tampa’s, it isn’t much better. The Phils have an advantage the Yanks don’t – the NL East may be as bad as the AL East is good, but they have two enormous crises. I ran into my old friend Ruben Amaro in the hallway just before first pitch and he swore he felt better than he looked – and he looked exactly like a General Manager of a team with a devastating rotation and no second baseman or right fielder. Chase Utley’s injury is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside some tendinitis and it would be called “indefinite” if only Amaro was that certain. Nobody has any idea what’s next, and Utley’s absence not only puts a Wilson Valdez or Josh Barfield in the lineup, but it also deranges their batting order and perhaps places Jimmy Rollins hitting in a three-hole for which he is ill-suited. Right field may be a bigger problem still. You could make a viable platoon out of Ben Francisco (who absolutely kills lefties) and John Mayberry, Jr (he homered again today) but both hit right-handed. In news that should terrify every Philadelphian, Domonic Brown’s replacement four of the last five days has been Delwyn Young, a scat back of a utility infielder who was not good enough to stick with the Pirates. This is a team that is suddenly in deep trouble on offense – Halladay looked gorgeous for six innings today but they got him only three hits before Sabathia left) and as awe-inspiring as the Four Aces look, having Brad Lidge close for them is like owning four Maseratis and employing a staff of blind valet parkers.

The Nine Smartest Plays In World Series History

Inspired by Johnny Damon’s double-stolen base in Game Four on Sunday, I thought it was time to salute a part of the game rarely acknowledged and even more rarely listed among its greatest appeals to the fan. What they once quaintly called “good brain-work”: the nine Smartest Plays in World Series History.

We’ll be doing this on television tonight, illustrated in large part with the kind help of the folks behind one of the most remarkable contributions ever made to baseball history, The Major League Baseball World Series Film Collection, which comes out officially next week, and which, as the name suggests, is a DVD set of all of the official “films” of the Series since  ex-player Lew Fonseca started them as a service to those in the military in 1943. The amount of baseball history and the quality of the presentation (the “box” is by itself, actually a gorgeous Series history book) are equally staggering.

We start, in ascending order, with a famous name indeed, and Jackie Robinson’s steal of home in the eighth inning of the first game of the 1955 World Series. It is perhaps the iconic image of the pioneer player of our society’s history, but it was also a statement in a time when the concept was new. Ironically, the Dodgers were losing 6 to 4 when Robinson got on, on an error, moved to second on a Don Zimmer bunt, aggressively tagged up on a sacrifice fly.

Robinson was at third, but up for the Dodgers was the weak-hitting Frank Kellert. And, after all but taunting pitcher Whitey Ford and catcher Yogi Berra of the Yankees, Jackie seized the day, and broke for the plate. No catcher has more emphatically argued a call, and no moment has better summed up a player, his influence, or the changes he would bring to the game.

Ironically, that was the last run the Dodgers would score and they would lose the game. But the steal set a tone for a different Brooklyn team than the one which had tried but failed to outslug the Yankees in their previous five World Series meetings. The Dodgers would win this one, in seven games.

The eighth play on the list is another moment of base-running exuberance. In a regular season game in 1946, Enos “Country” Slaughter, on first base, had been given the run-and-hit sign by his St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Eddie Dyer. Slaughter took off, the batter swung and laced one into the outfield. As Slaughter approached third base with home in his sights, he was held up by his third base coach Mike Gonzalez. Slaughter complained to his skipper. He knew better than Gonzalez, he told Dyer, whether or not he could beat a throw home. Dyer said fine. “If it happens again and you think you can make it, run on your own. I’ll back you up.”

It indeed happened again – and in the bottom of the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1946 Series! The visiting Red Sox had just tied the score at three, but Slaughter led off the inning with a single. Manager Dyer again flashed the run-and-hit sign, and Harry “The Hat” Walker lined Bob Klinger’s pitch over shortstop for what looked to everybody like a long single.

Everybody but Slaughter. He never slowed down. He may never have even seen third base coach Gonzalez again giving him the stop sign. When Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky turned clockwise to take the relay throw from centerfielder Leon Culberson, and, thus oddly twisted, could get little on his throw to the plate – Slaughter scored, the Cardinals led, and, an inning later, were World Champions.

The Red Sox should’ve seen it coming. Long before Pete Rose, Slaughter ran everywhere on the field, to the dugout and from it, on walks, everywhere. He said he had learned to do it in the minor leagues, when as a 20-year old he walked back from the outfield only to hear his manager say “Hey, kid, if you’re tired, I’ll get you some help.”

That manager was Eddie Dyer – the same guy who a decade later would encourage Slaughter to run any and all red lights.

The particulars of the seventh smartest play in Series history are lost in the shrouds of time: the 1907 Fall Classic between the Tigers and Cubs. This was the Detroit team of the young and ferocious Ty Cobb, but its captain was a veteran light-hitting third baseman named Bill Coughlin. In the first inning of the second game, Cubs’ lead-off man Jimmy Slagle walked, then broke for second base. Catcher Fred Payne’s throw was wild and Slagle made it to third. Coughlin knew the Tigers were in trouble.

There are two ways to do what Coughlin did next; we don’t know which he used. Later third basemen like Matt Williams were known to ask runners to step off the base so he could clean the dirt off it. Others, through nonchalance or downright misdirection, would convince the runner that they no longer had the ball. Which one Coughlin did, we don’t know. The Spalding Base Ball Guide for 1908 simply described it as “Coughlin working that ancient and decrepit trick of the ‘hidden ball,’ got ‘Rabbit’ Slagle as he stepped off the third sack. What the sleep of Slagle cost was shown the next minute when Chance singled over second.”

Coughlin snagged Slagle with what is believed to be the only successful hidden ball trick in the history of the Series.

 
Sixth among the smartest plays is another we will not likely see again. The New York Mets led the Baltimore Orioles three games to one as they played the fifth game of the 1969 World Series. But the favored Birds led that game 3-zip going into the bottom of the sixth. Then, Dave McNally bounced a breaking pitch at the feet of Cleon Jones of the Mets. Jones claimed he’d been hit by the pitch, but umpire Lou DiMuro disagreed – until Mets’ skipper Gil Hodges came out of the dugout to show DiMuro the baseball, and the smudge of shoe polish from where it had supposedly hit Jones. DiMuro changed his mind, Jones was awarded first, Donn Clendenon followed with a two-run homer, Al Weis hit one in the seventh to tie, and the Mets scored two more in the eighth to win the game and the Series.

But there were questions, most of them voiced in Baltimore, about the provenance of that baseball. Was it really the one that McNally had thrown? A nearly identical play in 1957 with Milwaukee’s Nippy Jones had helped to decide that Series. And years later an unnamed Met said that ever since, it had always been considered good planning to have a baseball in the dugout with shoe polish on it, just in case.

Today, of course, players’ shoes don’t get shined.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Hall of Fame batter, Hall of Fame manager, all involved in the fifth smartest play. But only two of them were smart in it. Reds 1, A’s nothing, one out, top of the eighth, runners on second and third, third game of the ’72 Series, and Oakland reliever Rollie Fingers struggles to a 3-2 count on Cincinnati’s legendary Johnny Bench. With great theatrics and evident anxiety, the A’s battery and manager Dick Williams agree to go ahead and throw the next pitch deliberately wide — an intentional walk.

Which is when Oakland catcher Gene Tenace jumps back behind the plate to catch the third strike that slides right past a forever-embarrassed Bench. As if to rub it in, the A’s then walked Tony Perez intentionally. For real.

Another all-time great was central to the fourth smartest play in Series history. With Mickey Mantle, you tend to think brawn, not brain, but in the seventh game of the epic 1960 Series, he was, for a moment, the smartest man in America. Mantle had just singled home a run that cut Pittsburgh’s lead over the Yankees to 9-to-8.  

With one out and Gil McDougald as the tying run at third, Yogi Berra hit a ground rocket to Pirate first baseman Rocky Nelson. Nelson, having barely moved from where he was holding Mantle on, stepped on the bag to retire Berra for the second out. Mantle, on his way into no man’s land between first and second, about to be tagged hi
mself for the final out of the Series, stopped, faded slightly towards the outfield, faked his way around Nelson, got back safely to first, and took enough time to do it, that in the process, McDougald could score the tying run.

Mantle’s quick thinking and base-running alacrity would have been one of the game’s all-time greatest plays – if only, minutes later, the 9-to-9 tie he had created, had not been erased by Bill Mazeroski’s unforgettable Series-Winning Home Run to lead off the bottom of the ninth.

 

Like the Mantle example, the gut and not the cerebellum is associated with the third smartest play in Series history. It’s Kirk Gibson’s epic home run to win the opening game of the 1988 classic. The story is well-known to this day; Gibson, aching, knees swollen, limping, somehow creeps to the batter’s box and then takes a 3-2 pitch from another hall of fame Oakland reliever, Dennis Eckersley, and turns it into the most improbable of game-winning home runs.

But the backstory involves a Dodger special assignment scout named Mel Didier. When the count reached 3-and-2, Gibson says he stepped out of the batter’s box and could hear the scouting report on Eckersley that Didier had recited to the Dodgers, in his distinctive Mississippi accent, before the Series began. On a 3-2 count, against a left-handed power hitter, you could be absolutely certain that Eckersley would throw a backdoor slider. He always did it. And as Gibson once joked, “I was a left-handed power hitter.”

So Gibson’s home run wasn’t just mind over matter. It was also mind. And it was also Mel Didier.

The second smartest play in Series history came in perhaps the greatest seventh game in modern Series history. The Braves and Twins were locked in their remorseless battle of 1991, scoreless into the eighth inning. Veteran Lonnie Smith led off the top of the frame with a single. Just like Enos Slaughter in 1946, he then got the signal to run with the pitch, and just like Harry Walker in 1946, his teammate Terry Pendleton connected.

But something was amiss at second base. Minnesota Shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch were either completing a double-play, or they had decided they were the Harlem Globetrotters playing pantomime ball. Smith, at least momentarily startled by the infielders pretending to make a play on him at second, hesitated just long enough that he could not score from first as Enos Slaughter once had. He would later claim the Twins’ infielders hadn’t fooled him at all with their phantom double play – that he was just waiting to make sure the ball wasn’t caught.

But he never scored a run, nor did the Braves. The game, and the Series, ended 1-0 Minnesota, in the 10th inning on a pinch-hit single by Gene Larkin from — appropriately enough for the subject — Columbia University.
 
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All-stars and cup of coffee guys; fielders and hitters and baserunners and pitchers and even a scout, and stretching over a span of 102 years of Series history. And yet the smartest play is: from this past Sunday. Johnny Damon not only worked his way back from down 0-2 to a line single on the ninth pitch of the at bat against Brad Lidge, but he quickly gauged the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with which the Phillies had seemingly presented him. Few teams employ a defensive shift towards the left side or the right when there’s a runner on base. This is largely because if there is a play to be made at second or third, the fielders who would normally handle the ball are elsewhere. With Mark Teixeira up, the Phillies had shifted their infield, right.

So Damon realized.

If he tried to steal, the throw and tag would probably be the responsibility of third baseman Pedro Feliz. Feliz is superb at third base, fine at first, has experience in both outfield corners, and even caught a game for part of an inning. But his major league games up the middle total to less than 30 and this just isn’t his job. Even if Feliz didn’t botch the throw or the tag, his meager experience in the middle infield slightly increased the odds in Damon’s favor. The question really was, what would happen immediately afterwards, if Damon stole successfully: Where would Feliz go, and who would cover third base?

Damon chose a pop-up slide so he could keep running. Feliz took the throw cleanly, but did not stop his own momentum and continued to run slightly towards the center of the diamond. And nobody covered third base. All Damon needed was daylight between himself and Feliz, and Feliz would have no chance of outrunning him to third, and nobody to throw to at third.     

And all of that went through Johnny Damon’s mind, in a matter of seconds. Before anybody else could truly gauge what had happened, he had stolen two bases on one play without as much as a bad throw, let alone an error, involved. It is a play few if any have seen before, and it is unimaginable that any manager will let us ever see it again!

Thereafter, in a matter of minutes, the Yankees had turned a tie game, with them down to their last strike of the ninth inning, into a three-run rally that put them within one win of the World’s Championship. And all thanks to the Smartest Play in World Series History.

Game 4: The Eddie Collins of 2009

Even if Johnny Damon had gone oh-for-the-first-four years of the 52-million dollart contract he signed with the Yankees after the 2005 season, he might have earned most of the cash with one of the most heads-up plays in World Series history.

As the potential winning run with two out in the top of the ninth inning of a game New York had nearly blown, he not only got a great jump on Brad Lidge to cleanly steal second base, but because the Phillies had employed the shift on Mark Teixeira, Damon had the presence of mind to realize Carlos Ruiz’s throw to second might be handled by a fielder unaccustomed to the role, who was also leaving third base unoccupied. Thus Damon utilized the pop-up slide, and when Feliz went to the wrong side of the bag, Damon accelerated past him and cruised into third as the Phillies watched helplessly. Lidge’s inning immediately cascaded into chaos and Mariano Rivera suddenly had a three-run lead in a game the Phils had just tied.
In the broad sense, at least, Damon’s dash was reminiscent of the famous Eddie Collins-Heinie Zimmerman play that decided the 1917 Series. Scoreless in the fourth inning of the finale, the White Sox cringed as Collins was trapped in a rundown. Giants’ catcher Bill Rariden correctly ran Collins back towards third, presuming that either his first baseman Walter Holke or his pitcher Rube Benton would cover the plate. But neither did, and as Rariden tossed to Giants third baseman Zimmerman, Collins burst past him, leaving Zimmerman to define futility to chase Collins towards the dish.
Though Ring Lardner actually made up the quote, Zimmerman was long credited with one of the most telling of acerbic explanations for a pivotal Series play: “Who the hell was I supposed to throw it to? The umpire?” It will be fascinating to hear if Feliz says anything similar.

Bunning And Short And Lidge… And Happ?

I don’t really remember the last time I saw him, but it may have been 1987. I never knew his name and I could not then verify his story, but he claimed that he had been at every one of Gene Mauch’s opening days since 1965 (and a lot of other Mauch-managed games, even some in spring training).

His act was always the same. He was there when the park opened, and he stayed till it closed. And any time he thought Mauch could possibly see him, he raised his sign, which read, simply “BUNNING.” If he had one friend with him, that guy carried another sign reading “AND SHORT,” but there was supposedly a three-man version (one fellow with “AND” and the other with “SHORT.”). “He has to be reminded,” I heard the guy say. “He has to be reminded, every year, what he did.”
The vengeful fan’s argument – echoed by a lot of people then and now – was that the infamous Philadelphia Phillies collapse of 1964 was neither organic nor accidental, but the direct result of a crazy managerial strategy pronounced by then-Phils’ skipper Gene Mauch. Around the 13th of September that year, with Ray Culp lost to injury and onetime ace Art Mahaffey shaky, Mauch had pronounced that he wanted the Hall of Fame righty Jim Bunning, and the unsung southpaw Chris Short to each pitch in each of the remaining six series the Phils had to play. “Bunning and Short,” Mauch supposedly said, “these are my men. Bunning and Short.” If Mauch indeed said it on the 13th, he said it when the Phillies still had a six game lead and an 86-57 record.
They would thereafter go 6-13 and between them Bunning and Short would win a total of three games and the Phillies’ collapse would be etched for all-time as the most painful, if not the mathematically worst (they were still 90-60 after play on September 20th, still six-and-a-half up, and then lost 10 of the last 12).
So this fan followed Mauch to Montreal, to Minnesota, to the Angels, and every year trotted out his message of “Bunning And Short.” And Gene Mauch never did get to the World Series, and as history narrows his place in its nooks and crannies, it will be for the collapse, and “Bunning And Short,” that he will be remembered. 
And I wonder if Charlie Manuel isn’t going to join him. Inherent in the criticism of Mauch is that there is nothing unforgivable in a manager, other than inflexibility. Indeed, some of the greatest managers have been the ones who have let go of their deathgrip on consistency. Think of Connie Mack starting the washed-up Howard Ehmke in Game One of the 1929 Series. Ehmke was, in fact, Mack’s seventh starter, behind Hall-of-Famer Lefty Grove, 24-game winner George Earnshaw, 18-game winner Rube Walberg, and three lesser lights who had each won 11. Ehmke merely set the then-record for strikeouts in a Series. Later skippers like Chuck Dressen used relievers like Joe Black and Clem Labine as Series starters. As late as 1974, Walter Alston was leaning towards starting Mike Marshall – who had only relieved 114 times that year – to start the sixth game against Oakland, if the Dodgers had survived that long. Consider Mayo Smith of the 1968 Tigers deciding, on August 23rd, with his team up by seven-and-a-half games but his shortstop Ray Oyler hitting just .142, that he had better find an alternative – and giving centerfielder Mickey Stanley an audition of exactly nine games before penciling him in at short for Game One of the World Series.
And here is Good ‘Ol Charlie, insistent on closing with Brad Lidge, who has the singular flammability – and more impressive, the endurance - of the infamous Underground Fire Of Centralia, Pennsylvania. I have written before here of the paucity of viable alternatives: Ryan Madson is now at 8/14 in Save conversions this season, but just 13 of 32 lifetime. Brett Myers may not be able to pitch on any nights, let alone consecutive ones. Eyre, Park, and Romero are hurt. Condrey’s a quandary and Durbin’s doubtful.
But whatever his future redemption might be, Lidge is Charlie Manuel’s ticket to Mauch-like infamy. He needs to punt, and he needs to punt now, and he has insisted he will not. And still there is Tyler Walker and his respectable record as a closer, or if this still somehow seems more terrifying than a guy doing the Human Torch act during your three-game failed defense of your World’s Championship, take a page from Chuck Dressen or Walter Alston, mix in a little Mayo Smith, and work in reverse. Nominally, at least, you have six starters, two of whom you will not use as such no matter how long you go in the playoffs.
This is no time to stick to tradition. Crunch the numbers and talk to the men and, if need be, ask for a volunteer. Presumably you cannot envision a world in which you don’t start Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee as often as you can. But are you really risking your rotation if you pick one man out of the other four to serve as your emergency closer? 
Interestingly, just a superficial look at data suggests there are two candidates, one of each arm kind. A closer must have, more than any other attribute, the ability to be effective immediately. If you get that first man out in the ninth, your track record with runners-on or in late innings becomes decreasingly relevant. And one Philly starter offers these numbers in the first innings of his games: .219 opposing batting average, .259 opposing on base percentage, less than one base-runner per first inning, 3.41 ERA. Another maps out at  a.197 BA, .288 OBP, 1.05 WHIP, 1.35 ERA.
The first guy is Joe Blanton. The second one is J.A. Happ.
Charlie – you can’t get by without one of them in your rotation? Hamels, Lee, Happ, Martinez is too lefty-laden for you? What about Hamels, Lee, Blanton, Martinez? (Parenthetically, if you’re wondering about the others, Hamels has a .238 OBP in the first inning, Lee .268, Martinez .369, Moyer .381. Intuition tells you that a still-rehabbing Pedro might be the choice – the numbers don’t).
The point here, of course, is that if the Phillies swap out Lidge for Blanton or Happ, and it fails, Manuel will be criticized. But at least he won’t be criticized for ignoring the possibility that there was a way of avoiding the iceberg. Fate even offers him one righty and one lefty, to fit whichever kind of rotation he thinks will serve him best against whoever he might face along the way.
The other alternative, I’m afraid, is three guys showing up every day for the rest of Charlie’s managerial career. One has a sign reading “Brad,” the second has one reading “Lidge,” and the third one uses the fireplace lighter for comedic effect.

Helmets And Closers

It’s 30 years now since the last major leaguer stepped to the plate without a batting helmet, and 38 since the helmet became mandatory. The mandatory earflap celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. But batters have used helmets (or plastic cap liners) since the ’40s, and their invention and use pre-dates even the death of Ray Chapman from a pitch in 1920, to Roger Bresnahan, Hall of Fame catcher of the Giants, in 1907.
Defensively, catchers turned to helmets, then cages. The mid-50s Pittsburgh Pirates wore them exclusively, in the field and at bat, pitchers included. While that idea was abandoned, largely based on the argument that fielders had gloves with which to protect their heads, John Olerud used one to protect his skull – at high-risk for damage after an aneurysm – while playing first base. After the awful death of Mike Coolbaugh, struck by a line drive while coaching first in a minor league game in 2007, helmets for coaches became mandatory last year, and by this one, they had begun to look perfectly normal (no matter what Larry Bowa says).
So, here is a question that popped into my head during a recent game: why don’t the umpires wear helmets? Surely the ones at first and third are at nearly as much risk for being hit by a line drive against which they are gloveless, and helpless, as a coach. The argument, of course, is that umps are trained pros, and it’s not like we’ve seen a frequent problem with them getting leveled. Just as we hadn’t seen one with coaches before Coolbaugh.
For that matter, why don’t we bite the bullet on the next most vulnerable in the equation? The catcher’s body is almost 100 percent covered, the plate ump is well-wrapped, and the batter can arm himself in everything short of cyborg components. Why don’t we mandate helmets for the individuals who are the fourth-closest to the violence of the meeting of bat and ball – the pitcher? We haven’t seen enough pitchers knocked down by return fire?
The obvious point against, of course, is that most of those pitcher injuries are to the face. Then again, no pitcher has had the opportunity to use “ducking out of the way” as a reaction to a line drive.
And if there is a cosmetic argument (and, face it, the new articulated helmets look laughable), certainly we have not reached the all-time climax of helmet design. They can doubtless be made more ventilated, be lined with sweat-absorbing material, fixed into a more cap-like shape, and generally be redesigned so as to make their wearer look less like the Great Gazoo.
Besides which, why does a batter with a helmet look right, and a pitcher or an umpire with one look less so?
Because we’re used to it.
NO HELMETS MAY SAVE THEM:

Watching the Nationals first sign, then promote, ex-Royals closer MikeMacDougal, and considering the maelstrom that their bullpen has been, I wondered when Manny Acta would put him into a save position. Friday night, he retired two Mets, including a creaky Gary Sheffield on strikes, on six pitches. Then Joel Hanrahan looked even better in the 9th, yet Acta mysteriously brought his shaky closer back for the 10th, and Hanrahan got lit up like the Capitol Dome.
This is not to portray Hanrahan as Mariano Rivera. But if the man has the tools to do the job and has just done it splendidly — if the question is confidence — get him out of there. Treat him like a real closer (pitch one inning, limit to save opportunities) and maybe he’ll become one. Hanrahan’s previous outing was with the Nationals trailing and the argument that he needed some work was valid, except that that was the day of the San Francisco/Washington day/night doubleheader and this was only the first game. What if Hanrahan had been needed in the second game?
In short, was Acta looking for a new reason to break-up with Hanrahan? Were he and his new pitching coach Steve McCatty setting up Hanrahan to fail? You pull your closer after he looks bad in two non-closing situations?
MacDougal became McCatty’s project in Syracuse and if he succeeds he could mean McCatty has the job long-term. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if McCatty has helped MacDougal reclaim his career. This is the MacDougal who spent nearly all of last year in the minors, and who was released by the pitching-challenged White Sox a month ago. And you have now destroyed Hanrahan, twice, in nine weeks.
To whom do you go if MacDougal fails? Joe Beimel? Kip Wells? Julian Tavarez? They’re all in that Nats Closer Alumni Association. Ron Villone? He’s been superb in the Washington bullpen, in a role he has performed for twelve seasons now – during which he has racked up is career total of seven saves.
In other closer flux news: Our fellow MLBlogger and Phils’ correspondent Todd Zolecki insistsCharlie Manuel is eternally committedto Brad Lidge. But his colleague Joe Frisaro has asignificantly less-ringing endorsementof Matt Lindstrom by Fredi Gonzalez. In that construction, Fredi, who seems to prefer a little chaos in his bullpen, may get exactly that.
True followers of the Phillies, of course, know that as startling as the statistic is — from perfection over a season to six blown saves in two months — Brad Lidge was hardly perfect last year. The true difference isn’t the number of crises he has created, but the number he has created. As Baseball Prospectus pointed out, his BABIP (Batting Average, Balls In Play) went from .300 during his “bad” year in Houston in 2007, to .302 during his “perfect” one in Philly last year. It’s the homer total that swung wildly: from nine in ’07 to two in ’08, to an astonishing seven this year (for comparison purposes, that’s how many homers Livan Hernandez has given up this year). And the BABIP is now .356?
Tab Bamford has a fascinating idea for the Cubs- but it is one entirely dependent on the idea that Chicago cancelled Rich Harden’s rehab start today only because the feng shui in the stadium was all wrong. The idea that an injury-prone starter with extraordinary stuff might be a better closer than a journeyman with loose-control or a set-up man with pressure issues is, as the blogger notes, not exactly unprecedented in Chicago. Lord knows Lou Piniella has been willing to make this move (Kerry Wood) and its opposite (Ryan Dempster) before.
All of which raises the question: if you’re the Tampa Bay Rays and you have the Red Sox and Yankees to fend off, and you don’t have time to screw around, and you have a healthy supply of starters, and your bullpen has suddenly gone so south that you hesitate to name a permanent closer, why aren’t you using David Price in that role?
BY THE WAY:

If you’re wondering about the last batter to hit without a helmet, it was Bob Montgomery, Carlton Fisk’s long-time understudy with the Red Sox. He, Norm Cash, and maybe a few others, were grandfathered when the helmet rule finally passed. They wore plastic liners inside their caps. Terrific oddity there considering Montgomery was a catcher.
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