October 20th, 2011

Alter the box scores?

Reading box scores has always been a hobby for a lot of avid baseball fans. It was for me growing up before TV and the internet made it easier to stay current with your favorite team or players. As a former pitcher I can tell you one of the most satisfying things to see the day after you’ve pitched is to look at the box score and see..Winning Pitcher..with your name after it.My friend, the late Joe Niekro, would hoist an adult beverage after he was credited with a win and say “Another one in the left hand [winning] column.” Conversely, no matter if you pitched well like C.J. Wilson did last night it’s disappointing to see…Losing Pitcher..with your name after it…

I had that feeling 237 times during my career and twice more in World Series play. Last night’s game reminded of  the days when pitcher’s were the decision makers as to who to pitch to and when to walk someone. It didn’t always come from the bench. The situation in the bottom of the 6th inning last night brought back memories of that. Now…..please don’t read into this that I am second guessing Ron Washington or C.J. Wilson, if it was his idea to walk Nick Punto with Chris Carpenter on deck. It happened earlier in the game and Chris struck out to end the inning. It seemed the obvious reason was to get Carpenter out of the game and Ogando into it to face Allen Craig.

From a pitcher’s point of view I always liked to get the #8 hitter out and have the pitcher leading off the next inning…If you can do that a couple times a game it makes it more difficult for the leadoff man to get something started….Reflecting back on the 1982 season for a moment. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that team when we won the World Series. Ozzie Smith was our shortstop and a lot of times was our #8 hitter. One of the many subtle things that aren’t in the box score is how many times the #8 hitter gets a 2 out hit, the pitcher most of the time makes the 3rd out and Voila!  The lead off hitter becomes the lead off hitter you want leading off the next inning.

Ozzie seemed to do that a lot. They probably could dig up a stat on that…This enabled Lonnie Smith or maybe Willie McGee or Tommy Herr to lead off for us instead of the pitcher. Back to last night’s 6th inning. If I were on the mound I would have much preferred to go after Nick Punto in both instances that he came up with 1st base open and the pitcher due up next. Why? First, I would love to have been sitting next to Cardinal great Bob Gibson last night when the situation arose. I can hear Gibby saying…”.if my stuff isn’t good enough to challenge the # 8 hitter and get him out, what am I doing out here.” I would echo his thoughts.

No dispespect to Nick Punto. I have always appreciated him as a good player going back to his days when I saw him play with the Minnesota Twins. I think of him as “Pete Rose Lite”. He plays with that same intensity. known more for his fielding and doing the little things like bunting a man over, hit and run, hit it to the right side to advance a runner..but not driving in a lot of runs…In pitcher’s pregame meetings when the #8 hitter’s name came up we would usually say…’he’s hitting 8th for a reason’…..I could almost see the smile on Mark McGwire’s face last night when Allen Craig got his chance. Mac thinks Craig will be an RBI machine in the near future. Maybe in this series.

So, here’s my point. If Ogando gets Craig out it looks like a good decision. But did C.J. Wilson have any input in whether or not to walk Punto or go after him? I don’t know. I don’t hear that question asked very often after games anymore. It’s an example of a starting pitcher being a pawn in the strategy of getting strong bullpens to match up against opposing hitters and as Tony LaRussa says, and he’s a master at it, ” I want to make it as difficult as I can for the opposing team to score”. I did read where C.J. said, “he didn’t chase” “was I suppose to throw him a fastball down the middle.?” If it were me that answer would have been a resounding YES…maybe not down the middle but trust your stuff that you can get him out and get the pitcher or pitcher’s spot in the batting order leading off the next inning. Maybe that’s why I have 237 losses next to my name.

So , did CJ deserve to be called the losing pitcher. If the decision to walk Punto or “pitch around him” came from the bench , NO….As Tim McCarver said on the FOX telecast, pitcher’s are trained to throw strikes and now you’re asking him to purposely throw balls. near the strike zone, but balls. It’s hard to do and often a pitcher will give up a hit doing that because he doesn’t throw the pitch with conviction. Aims it. doesn’t have crispness to it. When Bill Rigney, one of my former manager’s would come to the mound and hem and haw about pitching around a certain hitter, my response was quickly, “Do you want me to walk him or get him out”.? “Rig’ was the 1st manager I had that didn’t let me decide that myself in most instances. Again, that’s why the box score say’s Winning or Losing pitcher, not Winning or Losing manager. I felt for CJ last night. He may not have had a chance to determine his fate.

And please, it’s not to 2nd guess Ron Washington’s decision. If I were to see “Wash’ today, I’d give him a hug and tell him what a great job he has done and is doing with the Rangers. It’s just an example of how little decisions in baseball games can affect the outcome and they’re magnified in post season play. And when you see who the Winning and Losing pitchers are they’re often affected by decisions from the bench and not their own. As we see everyday during the regular season and more so in the post season, it’s a more specialized game and controlled from the bench as much as from the mound.

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