While the Phillies scored a run in the inning, what will go unnoticed is how much credit Mets manager Terry Collins deserves for how well he managed that eighth inning.
A manager's performance cannot always be determined by his players success at executing their job.
The inning started off innocently enough with Collins bringing in his top setup man, Jason Isringhausen, to hold onto the one run lead Chris Young left the game with. He walked the the leadoff hitter, but then got an out on a sacrifice bunt and then induced a routine pop up to strand the runner at second with two outs. Everything was going as planned.
However, Izzy would proceed to walk the switch-hitting Jimmy Rollins, causing slugging left-handed hitter Ryan Howard to come up to the plate. Collins would make the first move in the inning by move pulling Izzy in favor of Tim Byrdak. Byrdak failed to do his job and Howard tied the game up on an opposite field single. In response, Collins would make his last move of the innings by pulling Byrdak and bringing in closer Francisco Rodriguez during a tie game.
Rodriguez would go on to get the Mets out of the inning.
That move is the one that caused Collins to receive some scrutiny from fans as well as the ESPN announcers. The announcers on ESPN wanted to know why if Collins was going to bring in K-Rod in this inning he didn't do it why the Mets still had the lead.
Fans were also tweeting wondering why would he bring in K-Rod at all during this inning once it was tied because now who was going to close, should the Mets take the lead.
The fact of the matter is neither question should have been raised because Collins managed the inning as well as anyone could have managed.
No one will will argue Collins' decision to bring in Isringhausen in the first place so I won't even bother to explain that move that was a must make move.
The first question to respond to is, "Why not bring in Francisco Rodriguez while the Mets still had the lead if you were going to bring him in when the game became tied?"
The answer should have been simple, but then again, there is a reason cringe every time I realize the Mets are playing on ESPN. It is all about matchups, career numbers and splits.
First, let's just take a quick look at Ryan Howard's career splits:
vs. RHP: .303/.400/.636 with a 24% strikeout per plate appearance rate
vs. LHP: .234/.315/.450 with a 33% strikeout per plate appearance rate
The numbers speak for themselves, especially the triple slash marks. Howard has made a career of feasting off right-handed pitching and K-Rod is a righty while Byrdak, the man he brought in, is a lefty.
The percentages showed that Howard's chance of not only driving in the run, but even making contact would be dramatically reduced if he was facing a left-handed pitcher.
The other numbers to look at are Byrdak's career numbers vs. Ryan Howard before Sunday night. Howard had faced Byrdak 12 times in his career getting just one hit and one walk, while striking out six times.
If you wanna see his triple slash line it looked like this .083/.154/.083. Byrdak had simply dominated Howard in his career striking him out 46 percent of the time. Not to mention over his career Byrdak has held all lefties to a .204 batting average.
The reason a pitcher like Byrdak are on the roster is for situations exactly like this. The name for pitchers like him in the bullpen is a LOOGY, which stands for Lefty One-Out GuY. He is supposed to come in and get just one left-handed batter out during a game.
Collins was trying to do just this and have Byrdak come in to get one out.
Conventional wisdom says to try and get the lefty-lefty match up anyway and this specific situation showed that getting that matchup favored your team even more, giving Collins plenty of reasons to bring in Byrdak with the lead intact instead of bringing in his closer.
The next question that needs to be addressed is, "Once the game is tied why bring in K-Rod because who else is going to close the game out should the Mets get the lead?"
Why this stood out as a great move to me is because of how I define the "closers" role. It is basic knowledge to baseball fans that the closer is the best reliever on the team, which is why most would say to use the closer to finish the game because it is the highest leverage portion of the game.
In this game against the Phillies, however, the eighth inning served this role.
Getting the last out of the eighth was going to be the most crucial out of the game because if the Mets did not make it out of the eighth with the game tied it wouldn't even matter who Collins would pick to try and notch the save because any hit would have plated the go ahead run and made the question irrelevant.
Collins used his closer to close out the most important inning of the game, that way he even had the opportunity to decide who would close out the game with his best reliever already burnt.
That is how a closer should be used. To get the biggest out(s) of the game, which may not always occur as the last three outs.
Not to mention Collins found a way to make sure Rodriguez did not get a game finished and make it more difficult to reach the option in his contract.
Collins did everything right in that eighth inning of a huge game to prevent a sweep against a division rival and more importantly four game losing streak that would have almost completely nullified the six game win streak they were on just before it.
I learned a lot from TC the way he handled such a tough decision process and am glad I no longer have to deal with Jerry Manuel, who surely would have screwed that one up.