saylinara's comments were so on target, and my response so comprehensive, that I thought I'd promote them from the last comments of a thread to a full-fledged story:
Three main things in the loss
I found three disturbing things in this loss, none of which have to do with Lidge, because I think I've gotten over my initial anger with him.
The non-pinch-hitting for Andy at the bottom of the fourth. With the position you put yourself in with him bunting, the only way a run could score from third on Biggio's bat was if it got out of the infield. If we had our two chances at getting a ball out of the infield, even with the runner still at second, it could have yielded a more favorable outcome, especially with the heart of the order coming up. Furthermore, we had two starters-converted-relievers sitting in the pen with nothing to do, one who is quite good at relief opportunities. I know Garner figured there would be more chances to score, but with the club hitting with RISP like it had, he just had to take the chance with a pinch hitter.
Moe's inability to connect the bat with the ball. The one opportunity he did get, he got picked off at second. Granted, had Lance not just hit the home run, he stays at first. But other then that, there were many other opportunities for him to break the game wide open for the Astros to win, Pujols homer or not.
Garner just plain got cocky. He knew with his bullpen the game was in the bag. If he had anyone left on the bench who could play solid outfield, I guarantee you Willy would not have seen his AB. And then not telling Willy to bunt softly up the third base side, that's just weak. If Willy had gotten on base with his nice, tailor made, infield hit, Berkman could have batted against Izzy. And doesn't Berkman have some rediculous batting average against Izzy? Lastly, why in the world did he let Vizcaino hit? I know he was saving Bagwell for that "special moment," but there is something known as keeping your player on the bench too long. I know Baggie wants to get to a World Series so badly, he probably could have hit a cheapie on the first pitch he saw on pure emotion alone at that point. Then if he didn't at least get on base, at least Vizzy could hit for Willy and Lance could move back into the outfield while Vizzy plays first, if extra innings should occur at that point.
What did us in the most this game was management, plain and simple. We had the chances to break it open, but the decisions to get there had to have been made by Garner. He even could have told Lidge to just walk Pujols, because even if Sanders got a ball to the outfield, only two runs would have scored on a cleanly fielded ball.
To which I replied:
Call and ResponseHe even could have told Lidge to just walk Pujols, because even if Sanders got a ball to the outfield, only two runs would have scored on a cleanly fielded ball.
Bingo. My fiancé said in real time that Garner should walk Pujols, and I told her no, they'd never put the winning run on base.
So I wouldn't have done it, but then again, I don't get paid the big bucks.
The more I think about it, she was right. The WPA thing says you double your chances of losing from 7.5% to 15% by going from 1st and 2nd with two out to the bases loaded, but the WPA software doesn't know anything about facing the best hitter in the game. At that point it's damage control: who can hurt you least.
Garner had the chance to outmaneuver LaRussa the way LaRussa once had the opportunity to outmaneuver Lasorda: I'd always thought LaRussa should have had Eck walk Kirk Gibson. Tying run is still at second, and you make Lasorda use a pinch-runner. Plus Sax is just a little less dangerous than Gibson.
No pinch-runner here, but you diminish the Cardinal advantage in bypassing their most dangerous hitter. And it's almost criticism proof--unless Sanders triples. Because if Sanders homers with the bases loaded in that alternate universe which should have been, the fans and the media would certainly understand that Pujols would have done the same.
I would have.
Had I been watching as Lidge put Pujols on, at first I would have been like, "No. You can't do that." But as it sank in, I would have seen the logic.
Another thing you could try was to hand Wheeler the ball for the second consecutive inning. Don't tell me you weren't worried about Lidge after yesterday's luckfest in the ninth. So why wasn't Garner worried?
Well, I'm sure he was, but I won't blame Phil for the "tyranny of the closer," where you have to use a recently ineffective pitcher in a critical position, because otherwise you'd hurt his precious feelings, or whatever. That's just the state of the game, by far the most frustrating thing about it for me, and I can't expect Phil Garner to change that in one NLCS contest.
But in an isolated perfect world, unencumbered by all the baggage, using Wheeler (who threw 4 pitches in the eighth, right?) to pitch the ninth is at least as defensible as walking Pujols.
Which, of course, is what they should have done.
I am, by the way, not over my anger with Lidge at all. Not so much for the homer he gave up, but for the walk to Edmonds. And it's for that reason that the non-pinch hit in the fourth doesn't bother me at all. I disagreed with the move at the time, but the Astros got away with it, pure and simple. They had a two run lead with 2 strikes to go. I can imagine plenty of scenarios where Astacio gives up runs, and the fact is, although I thought it was fait accompli, Pettitte didn't.
Criticize Ensberg? Sure. Absolutely. Everett had better at bats last night. The Pettitte at bat in the fourth was better than one of Ensberg's strikeouts. Our MVP has hit one homer in the last month.
In attempting to write about the team right now, I will I'm sure find it difficult to find with in me the proper mix of realism and optimism as we head back to St. Louis.
So, since I might have trouble posting much today, anyone with an opinion about last night's game, or the next two, is certainly invited to share.