Sometimes Game Calls For Going Against "The Book" Directly To Closer

Ted SillanpaaAnalyst IApril 19, 2010

No beef with how Bruce Bochy handled the decision to remove Barry Zito after he walked a batter Sunday in the eighth inning.


Bochy played it by the book and went to his young, gifted right-handed set-up guy Sergio Romo. The guy's been outstanding in what most agree is a great Giants bullpen.

It's "the book," that I have an issue with because as soon as Zito issued the walk, I told my son, "They ought to go straight to Brian Wilson here."

When, I saw Manny Ramirez on deck and Bochy headed to the mound, I just belched, "Wilson!"

Of course, "the book" and the state of the Giants bullpen indicated that Bochy go with Romo. It was the right call. It just wasn't the call I'd have made.

I don't think all regular season games are created equal. "The book" doesn't allow for such thinking, so I refuse to criticize Bochy.

Romo deserves to be criticized for not throwing the pitch that Manny blasted low and way outside off the plate. I know people never believe this stuff when they see it written, but when the count reached 1-2, I honestly said, "I swear...the next pitch better be in the other batter's box and nowhere near the plate!"

Bengie Molina seems in line for some criticism, too. He had a young pitcher on the hill. Ramirez might've noticed Molina setting up way off the plate. But, who cares? Ramirez wasn't expecting a cock shot right down the middle. He was figuring Romo would bait him away. Molina wasn't fooling Manny by setting up just on the outside corner, but there he was. Just set up a foot off the plate so Romo is absolutely sure of what he needs to do.

I've seen big league catchers set up well off the plate in those situations—just to make sure that the pitcher misses where a guy like Ramirez can't hurt him. When they do that, I've rarely seen them positioned to catch a hanging break right over the middle of the plate seconds later either. Molina's glove was in position to catch Romo's pitch right down the pipe—if Manny's bat hadn't redirected the pitch.

Sure, a loss today counts as much as a loss in September. Once in awhile, though, the stars align in such a way that winning a game on a sunny Sunday in April could have major, long-range impact on the Giants and every other team in the NL West pennant race.

The Giants were in position to protect a 1-0 lead in what was, arguably, Zito's finest start in his troubled San Francisco career. He's never been better than he was Sunday. Zito looked, and pitched, like the Zito who won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award. I endorsed the decision to send him out to start the eighth inning. He'd earned that right.

When he walked a batter, though, the tying run was on base and the Giants were suddenly protecting a lead in a game that could've pushed Zito truly, once and for all, over the hump. After he pitched that well, after all the criticism he faced while pitching so poorly for so long, I'd have gone directly to the flame-throwing closer Wilson.

I'd have made it a priority to save that game for Zito because it would've made him a better pitcher for the rest of the season. Don't believe that big league pitchers only care about pitching well. They care about their win-loss record, too. So, I'd have bypassed Romo for Wilson because I think Zito reaching 3-0 was important on Sunday.

While closers are reserved to pitch the ninth inning in a save situation, that does not mean that save situations only occur in the ninth inning. The biggest out, the save, sometimes comes in the eighth inning. And, when faced with trying to get that out—I'd go to my closer. To hell with what "the book" says.

When the guy you need to get out is Manny Ramirez, one of the finest clutch hitters in big league history, I absolutely go with the guy I trust more than anybody else in my bullpen to get that out.

It felt for all the world as though the game was going to be saved or squandered, depending on what happened to Ramirez. It's just a hunch. And, again, Bochy can't manage based on my hunches, can he?

Wilson was up and getting warm. It wouldn't have taken much stalling to enable him to get hot and do what the New York Yankees have done so many times with Mariano Rivera. The Yankees have reached the final five or six outs of a big game many, many times and given the ball to Rivera, thus bypassing set-up men often every bit as good as Romo.

When the Yankees see a got-to-have-an-out situation late, Rivera gets the ball. Seems like Wilson's become the pitcher the Giants turn to in the eighth or ninth in those situations, doesn't it?

The Giants and Dodgers had split the first two games of the series. The Dodgers have ruled the NL West and handled the Giants quite effectively for a few years now. Winning a series in Los Angeles seemed to be something that would've given credibility to the fast start the Giants are off to at, largely, the expense of the Astros and Pirates.

So, the got-to-have-an-out situation arose in a one-run game and Wilson was ready to go. So, I'd have given him the call.

KNBR's Mycheal Urban and others argued that Bochy was right to call on Romo. Urban, however, dismissed the notion that there was any time that skipping Romo in that situation would be acceptable.

I disagree.

The game Zito deserved was on the line.

The chance to win a series in Los Angeles was there just as the Giants prepared to visit San Diego, where they've had trouble winning regardless of how far the Padres have fallen.

And, Manny Ramirez was coming up in a situation where one swing could...well, we all know what one swing could do because he swung and did it.

Finally, it was a time when the game could've boiled down to the Dodgers' best clutch hitter against the Giants flame-throwing closer Brian Wilson. Sometimes, season's turn on such showdowns.

So, I've got no beef with Bochy's move. Romo's a fine set-up man and, hell, "the book" called for Romo in that situation.

The moment, the magnitude of the game, just isn't covered in "the book."

There were plenty of good reasons to go with Wilson. Maybe next time?



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