Saturday, April 17, 2010

...And Out Come The Wolves

In the classic "Who's On First" comedy routine, made famous in the 1945 film "The Naughty Nineties", Bud Abbott (in the uniform of the fictional St. Louis Wolves) confused Lou Costello with the names of the Wolves' players. Even with knowledge of said players' names, Costello still did not know who was on first, what was on second, etc.

Now let's fast forward to the 21st century. Sixty-five years after the Wolves from St. Louis became household names, some new wolves have descended upon St. Louis to feast on Mets' manager Jerry Manuel.

The wolves in question are Mets bloggers and the reason for their ire is Jerry Manuel's decision-making ability (or lack thereof).

Last night, the Mets held a slim 1-0 lead over St. Louis (the Cardinals, not the Wolves) going to the bottom of the seventh inning. Oliver Perez had pitched beautifully, holding the Cardinals to three hits and three walks over six scoreless innings. After David Freese reached first on an infield single, centerfielder Joe Mather sacrificed Freese successfully to second. The bunt came on Ollie's 97th pitch and brought up pinch-hitter Skip Schumaker, who was batting for shortstop (and eighth-place hitter) Brendan Ryan.

Out popped Jerry Manuel from his hot seat in the dugout. Was he coming out to talk strategy with Ollie? No! He came out to take Ollie out of the game!

Did he fear that Schumaker would take Ollie deep? Hopefully not, as Schumaker had hit 15 HR and driven in only 103 runs in 1,358 career at-bats. (By comparison, Cubs' pitcher Carlos Zambrano has hit 20 career HR in 563 at-bats coming into this season.)

Apparently, Manuel was too busy looking over his shoulder to notice that Oliver Perez had been dominating the best hitter in baseball all game. In three at-bats against Ollie, Albert Pujols grounded into a double play in the first, grounded out weakly in the third, and struck out on only three pitches in the sixth. If Pujols was having trouble hitting Ollie, did Manuel really think a man literally half Pujols' size (see photo below) would fare better?

Let's just say Manuel took Ollie out because he thought 97 pitches was enough. Even so, why did he bring in Fernando Nieve to face the diminutive Schumaker? Had he not checked to see that Nieve had NEVER retired Schumaker before? Prior to last night, Nieve had faced the Mighty Mite three times and had given up a single and two walks to Schumaker. Sure enough, Schumaker's on-base percentage against Nieve remained at 1.000 when Fernando hit Schumaker on an 0-2 pitch.

The next batter was pinch-hitter Matt Holliday, the second-best hitter on the Cardinals after Pujols. Again, Nieve had an 0-2 count on the hitter, but lost Holliday by throwing four consecutive balls to load up the bases.

For the second time in the inning, Dead Manuel Walking (remind me to trademark that name) vacated his hot seat, this time to remove the ineffective Nieve and replace him with the inexperienced Raul Valdes. Ordinarily, this would have been an ideal situation for Pedro Feliciano to come into the game. However, Feliciano was unavailable to pitch due to a big-@$$ stomach bug that caused him to use an IV during the game.

So instead, Valdes, whose major league résumé consisted of five innings pitched (or 1.1 innings less than Ollie had pitched earlier in the game) was brought in to face Felipe Lopez. The appearance was Valdes' fourth appearance in the last five games. In his previous three appearances, he had thrown a whopping 83 pitches, but DMW brought him in anyway when he could have brought in fellow lefty Hisanori Takahashi, who had only pitched once in the Mets' last six games.

Four pitches later, a few more coals were added to DMW's hot seat as Felipe Lopez hit a grand slam off Valdes. The long drive to left provided all the scoring the Cardinals would need in the 4-3 victory over the Mets.

Bloggers such as The Coop from My Summer Family and Vegas Rich from Mets Merized Online are both calling for the Marie Antoinette treatment on Jerry Manuel, even if Manuel himself claims not to hear the venomous voices of the Mets bloggers (see photo, right).

After seeing last night's managerial effort (if you can call it that), I think I might be jumping on that bandwagon.

Too many times in the past has a manager lost his job due to the poor play of his players. After all, it's easier to fire the manager than it is to fire 25 players. However, over the years, Dead Manuel Walking has made numerous questionable managerial decisions, especially when it comes to taking out pitchers. Last night's removal of Oliver Perez and subsequent use of Fernando Nieve and Raul Valdes was the latest lesson in Head Scratching 101.

Nieve was called upon to face a batter who had reached base against him every time he had faced him. Why not bring in Ryota Igarashi in that spot, a pitcher Schumaker had no history against?

Valdes was being overused over the past five games. He had appeared in all but one game this week and was not economizing his pitches in each effort (averaging nearly 28 pitches per appearance). Why not bring in the seldom-used Hisanori Takashi in that spot, especially with fellow lefty Pedro Feliciano unavailable due to illness?

Abbott and Costello brought out the Wolves in St. Louis and left their fans howling with laughter. A different type of wolf is bearing down on Jerry Manuel in St. Louis. Unfortunately, Mets fans and bloggers are finding nothing funny about it.

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