Baseball managers are by far the most second-guessed leaders in all of American sports. Fans like to think they could do the job from the dugout as well as or better than men who have forgotten more about the game than they actually know.
But like a broken clock that is right twice a day, there are those rare moments when the armchair fan may know better than the grizzled manager.
Tonight was such a night. Clinging to a 2-0 lead in the eighth inning, the Tigers got a solo home run from Delmon Young en route to making the score 4-0, seemingly ending matters. I say that for two reasons. One, well, it was a four-run lead, and even Detroit's often shaky bullpen seemed to be in great shape to close the door.
But two, it made the game a non-save situation, thus sparing Jim Leyland the need to insert Jose Valverde. The moment he entered the game, there was the sense of deja vu.
Three days ago, the Oakland A's extended their season and forced Justin Verlander to pitch in Game 5 by touching Detroit's maligned closer for three runs in two-thirds of an inning.
Now, Valverde enters, and suddenly, history repeats itself. Russell Martin singles, and to his credit, Valverde bounced back and struck out Derek Jeter.
But then bang, Ichiro Suzuki smokes a two-run jack to make it 4-2. Not good, but not fatal either. Leyland stuck with Valverde likely to allow him to finish the game. That's understandable.
What is not understandable is leaving him in after walking the tying run in Mark Teixeira. With the scorching hot (and left-handed) Raul Ibanez representing the tying run, why wasn't Drew Smyly ready? At that point, it is a very real possibility that a mistake ties the game. Sure enough, Ibanez golfs the ball into the right-field seats and it's 4-4.
There is no good rationale for putting Valverde in again. The most practical comparisons are Byung-Hyun Kim in the 2001 World Series and Mitch Williams in the 1993 World Series. Both struggled previously in those series. After Kim's second meltdown, he was not seen in the final two games of that year's Fall Classic.
By contrast, we all still know what happened with "Wild Thing" Williams. Like Jim Leyland, then-Philadelphia Phillies manager Jim Fregosi stubbornly stuck with Williams and watched Joe Carter win the World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays at his closer's expense.
Detroit would be very well-served to avoid Valverde at this point at all cost. It escaped in a game it should have had salted away early. Now you have to wonder if it will risk pressing its luck a third time in this postseason. It might not be so fortunate next time.
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