Saturday, April 17, 2010

One For The Ages

This was one of those games that you will talk about for years to come. Still, I can't help but come away thinking that this was the most poorly-managed game I have ever had the misfortune of watching.

Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa managed as though he had absolutely no intention of winning the game. He failed to pinch-hit for the pitcher in both the 12th and the 14th inning and he used two different position players for three innings of relief instead of using an off-day starter. St. Louis battled for 20 innings to overcome the mismanagement and the indifference of their field general, but in the end it was too much to overcome.

When I started writing approximately three hours ago, it was centered around Jerry Manuel's refusal to bring in Francisco Rodriguez sooner. Yes, conventional wisdom says to hold your closer back unless it's a save situation. Conventional wisdom is nothing more than the safe way to lose a baseball game.

K-Rod should've come in to pitch in the 10th, when Fernando Nieve found a way to escape the mess left for him by Pedro Feliciano. He should've come in to pitch in the 12th, when Nieve needed rescuing of his own. He should've come in to pitch in the 14th, when Hisanori Takahashi needed to be picked up.

Manuel stubbornly refused to use his best reliever time and time again, leaving the game in the hands of middle relievers who pitched heroically when put to the test. Finally, K-Rod was allowed to pitch in the 19th, when the Mets pushed a run across against Cardinals outfielder Joe Mather.

The top of the 19th also bore witness to the second-dumbest decision I've ever seen a manager make. Manuel actually asked Luis Castillo to sacrifice Jose Reyes into scoring position. A sacrifice bunt in the 19th inning with an outfielder on the mound and David Wright on deck is an unforgivably stupid play. The Cardinals, thankful for the gift of an easy out recorded by a pitcher who had never pitched professionally, promptly walked the Mets' best hitter and set up a double play against the struggling Jason Bay.

The Mets only ended up getting one run of the inning and would have lost in the bottom of the 19th if La Russa hadn't trumped Manuel and made the single dumbest decision I've ever seen any manager make. How on Earth can Ryan Ludwick be allowed to steal with Albert Pujols at the plate?

It was a miracle that Pujols didn't homer off K-Rod later in the at-bat; was there any doubt he was going to hit the ball a mile in that situation? Ludwick should have still been on base to score off the Pujols double. Pujols then would've scored the winning run on the Yadier Molina single with two outs.

Once the maddening hysteria of seeing K-Rod fail to close out the game after being held back for 18 innings wore off, I realized one essential truth. I cannot allow my beautiful little niece, just 16 months old, to grow up a Mets fan.

Seriously. Look at that face. How can I subject her to the torture that would come with life as a Mets fan?

Then it was the bottom of the 20th, and the Mets had pushed across one more run against Mather. K-Rod's arm and his ego were apparently too fragile to pitch a second inning, even though the six previous Met relievers had recorded at least four outs in this epic. Enter Mike Pelfrey, who had pitched seven dominant innings in Colorado on Thursday and was being asked to hold the Cardinals at bay one final time.

He didn't make it easy, putting two men on base after dispatching of the first two batters of the inning, but he did it. One wonders if La Russa slapped his head in amazement - who knew that a starting pitcher could take the mound on his throw day and pitch more effectively than two position players?

The Mets are 4-7 now, having wrested away what will likely be the signature win of the season for them. They didn't win this game, so much as La Russa and the Cardinals lost it. Nevertheless, it will take its place in the annals of Mets history, a game sure to be referenced in future extra-inning epics and laughingly recalled in those moments where it appears the game at hand may never end.

What will hopefully be forgotten is just how much the poor decisions of both managers contributed to the incredible length of the game.

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