Twice in the late innings of yesterday's Marlins-Phillies game, Phils skipper Charlie Manuel and Florida manager Freddi Gonzalez matched wits. The Phils got the better of it both times, and took the victory and first place in the NL East as a result. In any 162-game season, there are literally hundreds of these moments, and mostly they rush by so fast that we barely note them before the next game starts. I figured I would try to focus in briefly on the two from Sunday's game.
In the sixth inning, with the Marlins leading 5-3, Gonzalez lifted his wild-but-effective young starter Andrew Miller and sent in Doug Waechter, a 27 year-old righty who entered the game with a 1.35 ERA built largely by holding right-handed hitters to a meager .103 batting average. Waechter walked Pat Burrell to lead off the inning, then retired Pedro Feliz and Chris Coste. With two outs and the #8 spot in the lineup due, Manuel pinch-hit lefty Geoff Jenkins for So Taguchi. The numbers did not favor this move: Jenkins was previously 0 for 9 as a pinch-hitter this season, and 0 for 4 against Waechter in his career. Greg Dobbs was available. But Manuel "had a good feel," and so Jenkins hit.
Gonzalez had a number of possible countermoves. The Marlins have 13 pitchers, including eight relievers, two of whom are lefties. One option could have been to use Renyel Pinto, who has a 1.57 ERA himself this season and has been effective against both lefties and righties (though slightly better against right-handers). Or he could have ordered Waechter to walk Jenkins--a move that goes against "the book" in that it put the tying run on base, but would have forced Manuel either to pinch-hit for Jamie Moyer, removing an effective pitcher and burning another pinch-hitter, or to let Moyer bat and probably squander the scoring opportunity.
The Marlins manager went with the Waechter-Jenkins matchup, and of course Jenkins hit a two-run homer to tie the game. It was a defensible decision, just an unsuccessful one.
An inning later with the game still tied, the manager was faced with another hard call. Waechter, still in the game, retired Jimmy Rollins and allowed a single to Shane Victorino. He then exited for Taylor Tankersley, the Marlins' best lefty reliever. Tankersley induced a popup from Chase Utley, but with Victorino dancing off first base, he hit Ryan Howard with a pitch to put two on and bring up Pat Burrell.
Already burned once in the game by the platoon matchup, Gonzalez took out Tankersley at that point in favor of Logan Kensing, a hard-throwing righty with occasional command issues. Kensing's first pitch was a slider two feet off the plate that catcher Mike Rabelo couldn't corral, and both runners advanced a base. At this point, Gonzalez could have walked Burrell and gone after the considerably less selective Pedro Feliz. But he allowed the at-bat to continue, and with the count 2-2, Burrell smacked a double just fair down the left-field line to score two and provide the Phils with the eventual winning margin.
A post-script of sorts came a half-inning later, when Tom Gordon--pitching for the first time in five days--entered the game for the Phillies and promptly walked Luis Gonzalez, then went 2-0 on Hanley Ramirez. With the crowd getting restless, Manuel sat on his hands; Jimmy Rollins had a short chat with Gordon, and the 40 year-old reliever came back to strike out Ramirez and escape the inning without further trouble. Sometimes the best move really is to do nothing.