Ain’t That A Kick In the Pants?

I realize that an inherent weakness in fandom is that it’s so much easier to second-guess poor decisions than good ones. You never hear two fans in a bar going, “Hey, remember when Torre double-switched in the 7th inning last night and everything worked out smoothly? What a brilliant move! And… fistpound.” It’s unfortunate, and it’s really just not fair. But guess what? That’s how things work, and I’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the nightmare that was the bottom of the 10th inning in San Francisco just now.

Hiroki Kuroda was masterful through eight innings, including working out of a tough spot in the 8th to conclude his night (and yeah, we’ve got a Kuroda-centric post that I think you’ll find pretty interesting coming up in the next day or two).  Jeff Kent’s homer in the top of the 10th put the Blue up 2-1… and this is where the wheels started to fall off. From there, we’ve got some concerns to discuss…

Wait, before we get to that? A big “thanks for nothing, chump” to umpire Larry Vanover for his horribly blown call in the top of the 9th inning. With a man on and two down, Andre Ethier blooped a ball down the left field line which clearly landed right on the chalk, yet was called foul. Even the super homers on the Giants’ television network said that the Dodgers got jobbed on that, so thanks, Larry! One of the worst calls I’ve seen all year.

Back on track…

1) The decision to lift Hong-Chih Kuo. This isn’t going to be the most egregious thing we talk about tonight; in fact, there’s a pretty decent defense to it, if you’re old-school. But it’s first because we’re going chronologically here. Kuo’s been excellent all season long, and blew through the Giants in the bottom of the 9th on just 8 pitches. Now I realize that I’m going to be going against most time-honored baseball strategy, here. Yeah, you’re up a run, but with a guy in scoring position and two outs, you’re going to pinch hit for your pitcher. I got it, it’s in THE BOOK and we all know Torre would never go against THE BOOK. But how much longer do we have to go with the fantasy that maybe Andruw Jones is finally going to get it together? He struck out looking and hell, Kuo could have done that. Worse, according to THE BOOK, if you’ve got a man who has the job title of “closer”, then gosh darn it, you bring him in at the end of a close game with a lead. We’ll get to Broxton later, but the problem here is that I think we all know that even if there’d been no one on and two outs, Kuo still wouldn’t have come out to finish the game off. Because he’s not the “closer” – even though he’d just mowed down the Giants on 8 pitches, and even though he’s been one of the most effective pitchers in all of baseball this season, Broxton included. Why couldn’t Torre have just let Kuo start the inning with Broxton in reserve? Don’t we all agree that right now, Kuo is a more effective pitcher, job titles be damned?

2) Why was Manny Ramirez playing left field in the 10th? Okay, we’re beyond issue #1, and the decision has been made: you’ve pinch-hit Jones for Kuo. Fine. So then why was Manny still playing in the outfield in the bottom of the 10th? I shouldn’t even have to explain or back up the idea that Manny’s not on this team for his defense, and while Jones might not be the sublime defender he once was, he’s still miles better than Manny. Just as there’s no question the best hitting outfield alignment is Manny/Kemp/Ethier, there shouldn’t be much of a question that the best defensive alignment is Ethier/Jones/Kemp. So then why was Broxton not inserted into Manny’s spot in the lineup, rather than the 9th spot then occupied by Jones? If it’s because Torre was worried that the pitcher’s spot would then be up 4th in the following inning rather than 9th (and rather than Manny), then you’re doing the most dangerous thing a manager can do: you’re playing not to fail, rather than playing to win. Sure, if Broxton gives up precisely exactly one run (rather than zero or two) then you’ve lost Manny’s bat the next inning. On the other hand, if you get a better outfielder than Manny in the game… you massively increase your chances of never having to find out what the next inning looks like in the first place.

But hey, it’s not like it ended up directly affecting the team… since the first two batters of the inning hit safely to left. While the first hit was too deep for anyone to grab, there’s a pretty decent chance that an outfielder with more range than Manny might have been able to snag the second hit. This isn’t an indictment of Manny; outfield range is simply not his game, and we should all know and accept that. Joe Torre should have known that too, and this (yet another) example of poor decision-making can be directly pointed to as a cause for this crushing loss.

3) Jonathan Broxton – what the hell? It’s really tempting to bash Broxton for blowing the save, but I also think it’s a little unfair. Yeah, giving up a hard-hit leadoff double to Dave Roberts, of all people, really hurt. But look at what happened after that. A dinky fly to left that a better outfielder may have turned into an out; an weak infield hit on which Broxton made an incredibly athletic play to nearly get the runner at the plate; a hit batter which didn’t hurt as much as it seemed (with men on second and third in a tie game, that run is completely irrelevant, and served to set up the double play after the upcoming strikeout), and a strikeout of Benjie Molina. Aaron Rowand singled to right to win the game, and the argument can be made that if you’re going to be the “closer”, you’ve got to man up and get that strikeout or double play ball there – fine. (Hard to say for sure, but if the infield wasn’t drawn in to get the runner at home, that might have actually been a double-play grounder).

The point is, other than the leadoff double, Broxton was much more unlucky than ineffective. I’ve got to say, he’s having one of the weirdest seasons I can remember. It sure seems like he’s not been nearly as dominant as in the past, right? But the numbers just don’t back that up. Since taking over as “closer” for Takashi Saito, Broxton was a perfect 7-for-7 in saves until this game, and he’s sporting the lowest WHIP of his career to this point. Sure, the saves haven’t all been pretty, but he got the job done. This time – again, other than the leadoff double – Broxton was more victimized by not having the outfield defense he should have and some lucky hits for the Giants. No, Broxton wasn’t as good as he needed to be tonight. But let’s not start up the “he doesn’t have the stuff to be the “closer” chant just yet, either.

A simply crushing defeat all around, really, and it took a team effort to get there. Besides Torre’s questionable decisions and Broxton coming up short, you can’t ignore the staggering 24 men the Blue left on base tonight. This is going to be one of “those” games – the kind you look back upon with disdain when you miss the playoffs by one game on the last day of the season.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. The Dodgers could have been in first place.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg

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