But on Friday night, that wasn’t the most upsetting aspect of the game for the Mets—not even close. That would be the error-filled second inning, in which the Mets infielders handed the Yankees four runs.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel didn’t have anyone out of position that night, so he really can’t be blamed for the poor defense. Ditto for Saturday’s loss, as Burnett was simply too dominant. Last night’s series finale, however, is a different story.
The Mets finally had an advantageous pitching matchup, as the surprisingly reliable Livan Hernandez (who entered the game with a 5-2 record and 4.05 ERA) took on the even more surprisingly atrocious Chien-Ming Wang (0-6, 11.2 ERA).
Every other opponent had teed off on Wang, but not the Mets. They managed only two runs against him in 5.1 innings. Again, given the AAA lineup Manuel is working with, this lack of production can’t be blamed on him. There were two boneheaded moves that certainly can and should be blamed on him, though.
Bonehead Move No. 1
The Situation: The pitcher’s spot in the order comes up in the bottom of the seventh with no outs and a runner (Luis Castillo) on first. The Mets are trailing 3-2.
Hernandez had settled down after a rough first inning and had thrown six straight shutout frames. He is also an excellent bunter, arguably the second best bunter on the team (behind Castillo). However, Manuel decides to pinch-hit with Argenis Reyes (1-for-6 since being called up from the minors a few days earlier), only to have him bunt!
The fact that Reyes failed to move the runner over only makes it worse, but it’s not always fair to judge decisions based on results. It was a bad move whether it was successful or not. Hernandez should have been left in the game to bunt and continue to pitch.
Bonehead Move No. 2
The Situation: Derek Jeter comes up in the top of the ninth with two outs and runners on first and second. Closer Francisco Rodriguez is pitching. The Mets are still trailing 3-2.
This one is far worse. Mariano Rivera is on deck, as he came in to get the final two outs of the eighth, and will certainly bat if Jeter is walked. You know, because it’s a one-run game and he has 499 career saves.
But for some inexplicable reason, Manuel lets K-Rod pitch to Jeter. He throws him a first pitch strike and then misses with two balls just off the plate. It wasn’t until then, when K-Rod fell behind 2-1, that Manuel issued an intentional pass. Maybe he heard me screaming at my television.
The fact that K-Rod then managed to walk a guy who was facing a major league pitcher for only the third time is irrelevant. Even Joe Morgan—who is suddenly looking like a genius next to Jon Miller and Steve Phillips in the ESPN television booth—recognized pitching to Jeter was insane.
I try not to criticize the manager for moves that are pure judgment calls—whether or not to take the starter out, whether to pinch hit for a struggling batter or leave him in to try and build confidence, etc.
These are small things that, while important, are impossible to assess at the time. In these matters, Manuel has seemed to do fine. Sadly, it’s the “easy” decisions that he fouls up time and time again.
As I’ve written before, a new manager might not get this team to play hard and erase the mental mistakes. But it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone who knows it’s advantageous to pitch to a future Hall of Fame closer rather than a future Hall of Fame shortstop.