Before I address other of the many problems that I had with Phil Garner’s “managing” tonight, I’ve got to go straight to the bottom of the 12th inning.
The Astros are down 2-1. There are 2 outs. There is nobody on base. The pitcher’s slot is due. So Garner decides to go with a pinch hitter. His choice is Morgan Ensberg, the 3rd basemen who has been slumping so badly that he’s been benched. Ensberg, of course, strikes out to end the game.
Now, listening to the post-game show, I heard several people call-in and criticize this decision.
The response of the host was that Ensberg’s a power hitter. He can tie the game with one swing of the bat, so, when you’re down a run with two out, you go with the guy who can the hit home run.
Here’s the fallacy behind that logic.
First, did I mention that the batter was Morgan Ensberg? Who, this season, as pinch hitter, was 0 for 6.
Now, sitting on the bench, was Mark Loretta. True, the odds are against Loretta hitting a home run to tie the game. But the odds are in favor of Loretta getting a hit, or in some way getting on base. And, the next batter is Hunter Pence who had gotten one of the only three hits that the Astros got during the game. And, Pence has demonstrated the ability to hit in the clutch. So, if you get someone on base, and give Pence the chance to hit, then the Astros still have the ability to tie, or to win the game.
Instead, Ensberg’s sent into pinch hit because of a supposed ability to hit the home run ball.
Remind me again, but hasn’t Ensberg been benched because of an ability to hit anything, let alone a home run?
And that’s not the only Garner fuck-up from the game. It’s the bottom of the 9th inning. The game is tied. The Astros have Berkman and Lee on base. The pitcher’s spot is due to bat. So, Garner calls for a pinch hitter.
Let’s see, a home run’s not needed to win the game. Or to tie. A simple base hit will probably knock in Berkman with the winning run. Mark Loretta’s sitting on the bench. Loretta’s a career .300 hitter. So, who does Garner call on? Can you say Orlando Palmeiro? Yep, that’s right. And after Palmeiro grounded out to end the inning, his average dropped down to .160.
I’ve got that out of my system. So I’ve got to say some other things.
I’m one of those geeks who loves a pitcher’s duel. And this was a pitcher’s duel. Roy Oswalt had a no-hitter for 5.2 innings. He pitched 7 innings, giving up only 4 hits and striking out 6. And then there was Giants rookie Tim Lincecum. Making only his third major league start, Lincecum pitched 7 innings, gave up only 2 hits, and struck out 10. These two were really on fire. It looked like they were just toying with the batters. Like, for instance, Craig Biggio, who was 0 for 5 and struck out 4 times. Barry Bonds was 0 for 3 and struck out looking – that’s very hard to do.
Yes, the Astros lost. But if you couldn’t enjoy this game, then you just don’t understand baseball.
Now, there are many out there who are going to blame the loss on Mike Lamb. Lamb, who has never been known for his defense, made a throwing error in the top of the 8th that ultimately led to the Giants tying the game.
There’s an argument to be made that defense is the most important thing. And that if Ensberg’s playing, the Astros win the game. Well, here’s my response, no major league team is going to win with Ensberg, Everett – whose average dipped to .197 with a 0 for 4 night – and Craig Biggio – now batting .234 -- in the starting line-up.
No offense, no wins. It doesn’t matter how good the defense is. If the team’s not scoring, the team’s not winning.
The Astros record dipped back to 20-20, and with the Brewers win, the Astros fell to 5.5 games back.
The Astros open up a 3-game series with the Texas Rangers tonight, with Matt Albers getting the start. This is the start of the big annual Silver Boot rivalry. A rivalry which, from what I hear on the radio, matters only to Drayton McLane because the players don’t really seem to care. -- John Royal
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.