Oliver Perez was doing fine through five innings yesterday - having given up just three hits and a walk and keeping the Phillies off the scoreboard. Perez wasn't quite dominant, having also plunked Chase Utley twice, but his pitch count was only at 75 and there was no reason in the world to think about taking him out.
Perez got the first two outs in the sixth, getting Utley and Ryan Howard to pop up. An eight-pitch walk to Pat Burrell was followed by a balk, a wild pitch and a walk to Jayson Werth. Perez was frustrated at this point, and it was clear he needed to calm himself down and take control of the situation, or else he was going to squander the 2-0 lead the Mets had built for him.
Luckily, Pedro Feliz - one of the worst hitters in baseball - was striding to the plate. Feliz has spent parts of seven seasons in the majors and has only put up an OBP over .300 once. He has been slightly more successful against lefties throughout his career, but that's like saying I'm better when I arm-wrestle with my left arm instead of my right. Either way, I'm probably going to lose.
Unluckily, Willie Randolph was managing the Mets yesterday. Willie took the ball from Perez, robbing him of the chance to work out of adversity and continue in the game, and turned it over to Joe Smith, who walked Feliz (!) before retiring Carlos Ruiz to end the threat. Shenanigans ensued in the seventh and eighth inning, and the Mets were losers again.
I was already annoyed that Willie pulled Perez from the game in that spot. A free swinger like Feliz is an easy mark - this was a perfect opportunity to test Perez to see if he could overcome an adverse situation and take the next step in his professional development. Ollie is going to be a free agent after this season and is looking for a big multi-year deal; I would like to see if he has the potential to be a staff ace or if he's always going to be an erratic #3 starter who can't be counted on after the fifth inning. The only way to find that out is to let a starter pitch out of his own jams once in a while, instead of babying him and sending him to the clubhouse at the first sign of late-inning trouble.
But Willie Randolph has made it painfully clear to even the most casual observer that he is not a very creative manager. Perez had thrown 20 pitches that inning and was therefore nearing the dreaded 100-pitch mark - also known as the point where "conventional wisdom" dictates that any additional pitches thrown will cause a starting pitcher's arm to explode like an M-80 inside a watermelon. Willie also had seven options in the bullpen and he likes to keep them from getting rusty. So instead of using fewer relievers more often (a six-man bullpen), he opts to choose more relievers less often (a seven-man bullpen), even if it makes more sense to leave the starter in.
The result? Out comes Perez, in comes the bullpen, good-bye goes the game.
This would've been the end of it; just one more mistake by one of the worst tactical managers I've ever seen. But then Willie decided to pop off about his starters not going deep enough into games and infuriated me all over again.
From the article: "(Perez) got his pitch count up, he was a little erratic," Willie Randolph said. "All our starters are going to have to give us a little more length than that."
Earth to Willie - YOU'RE the manager!! YOU decide how much "length" a starting pitcher gives you!! If you had left Perez in the game, there was still a good chance that he would've gotten the third out and been ready to pitch in seventh. Even if he started the next inning with 100 pitches under his belt, the Phillies had the bottom of the order coming up. Let Perez pitch to Carlos Ruiz and take him out after the Phillies announce a pinch-hitter.
If all goes well, Perez exits with 6 1/3 innings under his belt, only 105 pitches or so thrown and the satisfaction of knowing he got himself out of the biggest jam of the game at that point. Worst case scenario - Feliz hits a three-run homer, the Mets are down a run with four more chances to tie the game and you're going to the bullpen anyway. You also learn something about Perez - that he still hasn't shown a propensity to control his emotions and to get a critical out in a big situation. That's the kind of thing you want to know about a guy before investing 5 years and $75 million in him.
But no. Willie saw the looming 100-pitch mark and decided he had to take out his starter - because every single starting pitcher in baseball reaches the limit of their endurance AT THE EXACT SAME POINT. Then he actually has the nerve to take a shot at his starter - who hasn't given up a run in either of his two outings this season - and complains that he didn't pitch deep enough into the game.
When Willie has to make a managerial decision, it's a lot like the old joke about flipping a coin - if it's heads, then Willie was right. If it's tails, then you were wrong. Personal accountability never even enters the equation.