Tonight’s games were a perfect illustration of why I think that more often than not, baseball players are better off if their manager leaves them alone and lets them play baseball.
In the fourth inning of game 1 of last night’s double-header, the Brewers put runners on second and third with two outs and Craig Counsell at the plate. Counsell is hitting .169/.273/.200 this year and he recently endured an 0-for-a million streak that had everyone short of Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke questioning why he was still in baseball. It seemed like a perfect chance for Jeff Karstens to get out of the jam, plus to leave the pitcher’s spot leading off the fifth.
Nope. Karstens was ordered to walk Counsell in order to face Chris Narveson, who’s hitting .143/.182/.190 this year/ Or just slightly, slightly worse than Counsell. Having completely out thought themselves, the Pirates watched helplessly as Narveson singled in two runs and that 2-0 lead held until late in the game when the Brewers broke things open. When the whole thing unfolded, I was so mad that I turned the game off entirely to go get some other things done, swearing that I wouldn’t come back before game 2 and Brad Lincoln’s start.
So I came back for the second game and it turned out to be quite a pitcher’s duel between Brad Lincoln (who wasn’t overwhelmingly good, but was more than good enough after a rocky first inning) and Zack Greinke until the seventh inning. In the bottom of the seventh, Garrett Jones lead off with a single. Matt Diaz went up to the plate on orders to bunt him over, but he got hit by a pitch. Clint Hurdle was apparently bound and determined to make the bottom of the seventh inning about him, though, because then Josh Harrison, who had two hits in the first game and was robbed of another by Ryan Braun, went up with orders to bunt again. After two foul bunts, he served a little bloop RBI double over third base that put the Pirates in the lead. The team then went on to rally for six more runs and put the game out of reach, finally notching a win over the Brewers.
I don’t want to make this whole recap about managerial decisions, but when you let players play, good things happen and when managers meddle, bad things happen and generally the good things that happen when players play are better than the things the managers are trying to get them to do. That’s all I’m trying to say.
That out of the way, let’s run down the players that made the most satisfying post-collapse win of the year possible. Within his first five pitches tonight, Brad Linconl had served up a home run and a single that would eventually come around to score. Against a team like the Brewers, he could’ve fallen apart. Instead, he only allowed one hit and one walk the rest of the way through his six innings and he kept the Pirates in the game against a guy that’s been one of the National League’s best over the last few weeks. He wasn’t overwhelmingly good (he only struck one hitter out), but he was good in the way that he wasn’t last year. Almost nothing the Brewers hit after the first inning was hit hard and the only time they really threatened to score was after a Ronny Cedeno error. In the long run, Lincoln will have to strike guys out to succeed, but if he’s going to be in the rotation for the season’s last five weeks, this was a good place for him to start.
On offense, Jose Tabata’s been absolutely on fire since coming off of the disabled list. He added two hits in the nightcap, including the RBI double that put a lid on Greinke’s night in the seventh. He looks like a top of the order guy again. Let’s hope he can finish 2011 strong. Josh Harrison had two hits in the first game and the big RBI double in the second, plus he turned a couple of nice plays in the field both at second (in game one) and third (in the nightcap).
The Brewers are in first place and the Pirates are a million games back and the second game was pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but it’s nice to know the Pirates won’t be shutout entirely against the Brewers this year. Next goal: splitting this series.