Griffin: Rangers need to regain faith in Ron Washington
ST. LOUIS-It doesn't really matter what we, as outside observers, think of whether Tony LaRussa managed rings around Ron Washington in Game 1 of the World Series. He did. It does matter what the Rangers players inside that clubhouse believe and they have to believe after Game 1 that their man was bewitched, bothered and bewildered by the manipulations of his counterpart in the opposite dugout in the course of losing 3-2 on Wednesday night at Busch Stadium. Washington needs to be better.
Game 1 was a largely well-played National League-style game, especially given the conditions of cold, wind and rain that dominated the evening. The key strategy sequences that showed off the difference in baseball gray matter between LaRussa and Washington surfaced in back-to-back half innings – the bottom of the sixth and the top of the seventh.
In the Cardinals' sixth, with a runner on third and two out, tied 2-2, Washington delivered the message to his starter, C.J. Wilson, “Don't give Nick Punto anything to hit.”
Instead, Wilson delivered four wide or low pitches that would not have tempted Vlad Guerrero to take the bat off his shoulder. In fact two of them were in the dirt, bouncing away from catcher Mike Napoli that could just as easily have been wild pitches.
Instead of sending Chris Carpenter to bat, with a manageable 87 pitches, which is what Washington was hoping, LaRussa sent in red-hot pinch-hitter Allen Craig who singled in the winning run off reliever Alexi Ogando. Horrible. Who would you rather pitch to and try and get out in that situation, Nick Punto or Allen Craig? No contest. And why not bring in Ogando to face Punto if you were going to bring him in after Wilson pitched around him?
Then when the Rangers threatened an inning later, Washington was out-managed again. They had runners on first and second with one out. LaRussa brought in his lefthanded specialist Marc Rzepczynski to face lefty swinger David Murphy. The reason he didn't bring in his other lefthander Arthur Rhodes is that the Cards' cerebral skipper knew that Washington would pinch-hit for Murphy and Rzep is the better choice against righthanders than Rhodes. Reserve outfielder Craig Gentry was sent in to pinch hit and struck out.
But then came the most egregious managerial decision by Washington. Prior to the game, the Rangers had set their final World Series roster, zipping two Japanese pitchers and adding righthander Mark Lowe and a third catcher, Matt Treanor. Washington had explained to a member of the Japanese media the reasons for the move before the game.
“We're trying to diversify our roster and beinging Treanor on, he gives us versatility,” Washington had said. “I have two catchers that are pretty good and I like to use them in different ways and Treanor gives us that versatility.”
Less than four hours later, after this pre-game explanation, in the seventh inning with two out and the tying run at third base against Rzepczysnki, the Rangers had a chance to pinch-hit with Yorvbit Torrealba and still have a second catcher available if anything happened to starter Mike Napoli. Instead, Washington sent up utility man Esteban German with the game on the line, who had not had even one plate appearance since September 25. Talk about coming in cold. He struck out and the game went to the eighth.
The Rangers need to win on Thursday and Washington needs to do a better job, just to bring some swagger and confidence back into the Rangers clubhouse.
They turn to righthander Colby Lewis for Game 2, who has been much better on the road than he has been at the Ballpark in Arlington. He finds it hard to explain.
“I think last year somebody said that my splits were the exact opposite that it was this year,” Lewis said. “I don't know. I think just a new year, things are different. I'm not really worried about it. Looking forward tot he first time getting to hit.”
Lewis is 1-1, with a 3.86 ERA in two starts in the post-season, striking out 12 batters in 11-2/3 innings. Compared to most starters in this post-season, those are Cy Young numbers.
“It's kind of all or nothing,” Lewis explained of his post-season outlook. “You go out there and you don't know if you're going to get the ball again. You go out and you let it all hang out.”
The Rangers need to let it all hang out, including their manager in order to pull back even in the series heading home to Arlington and the comfort of the designated hitter.